Press Release - Marine turtle conservation efforts throughout the Pacific region are driven by the sad fact that all marine turtle species are now experiencing serious threats to their survival.

When over 30 Marine turtle conservationists and specialists from the Pacific Islands region came together to "talk turtle" in February, it led to outcomes to enhance the work of saving our marine turtles.

The Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), in collaboration with WWF South Pacific Programme and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), coordinated the two-day Pacific islands region marine turtle meeting in Australia prior to the International Sea Turtle Society's 29th Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation.

It was an opportunity for members of government, non-governmental organisations (NGO's) and marine turtle specialists to meet and update on implementation of the regional Marine Turtle Action Plan (MTAP) 2008 - 2012. Bringing everyone together to discuss this, also allowed for opportunities with donor organisations to understand and learn more about the different turtle conservation developments on the ground.

"An important action in the MTAP 2008-2012 concerns reporting and in 2008 a questionnaire was sent to member countries so we could be updated on turtle conservation work in the region. However there are quite a lot of activities that we are not aware of, as the driver behind a lot of the work are NGO's." said SPREP's Marine Species Officer, Lui Bell.

"It was at this meeting we could sit and discuss what is being done for turtle conservation around the region, now that one year has elapsed since the start of the revised MTAP 2008-2012."

The meeting also stressed the need for more Pacific-wide collaboration and information sharing with research on nesting populations, as well as on other initiatives including collection of turtle tissue samples to help in the identification of turtle stocks in the region. Countries committed to improving data with assistance from SPREP and other collaborators. Important too, was the need to standardise method of monitoring turtle nesting for comparable analysis of data.

"We'll do a form as a template to share out with all the countries, although some of those who attended were of a policy level. We will also send all presentations to the technical people we normally work with as well so we have a consistency in turtle data collection and analysis."

Most recent data collected by SPREP involved the Leatherback turtle nest survey in Bouganville with SPREP staff assisting with a ground survey - It was during this survey that 46 nests were found in all with 12 determined to belong to green and hawskbill species.

For the last four years SPREP has been working to initiate the development of a Memorandum of Understanding under the Convention of Migratory Species (CMS) for marine turtles. Thhis was approved by the CMS Conference of the Parties in 2005 and also by the two subsequent SPREP Annual meetings. However, to date very little progress has been made toward developing the MOU.

At the two-day meeting in Australia, some felt that it might be necessary to conduct an analysis of existing agreements or other form of arrangements to determine whether such an MoU was necessary. It was also recommended that another meeting be held to discuss the matter and encourage further development.

Bell is keen to see an MoU established for marine turtles in the Pacific, under the Convention of Migratory species.

"We perceive there to be a huge gap in the region for marine turtles. The East has the Inter-America Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles (IAC) and the West has the Indian Ocean-South-east Asian sea Turtle MoU (IOSEA), but the middle of the Pacific does not have any specific agreement to help conserve marine turtles, despite all the endorsement given for one. We still need to work on it with CMS and CMS Oceania Parties; we just have to move ahead."

The Pacific regional meeting was scheduled before the International sea turtle symposium in Australia this year. The international event staged by the International Marine Turtle Society was an opportunity to meet, as well as to have a large Pacific islands delegation at the symposium.

Anne Patricia Trevor, SPREP's Associate Turtles Database Officer believes the symposium was an eye opener for a lot of the Pacific islanders that attended.

"The good thing about this symposium is that it helped Pacific islanders learn more about the different turtle conservation work that is happening around the world. It was a chance for us to see all the many things that are being carried out worldwide; that the endangered marine turtle is not just a Pacific issue - its happening everywhere."

The Pacific island region marine turtle meeting was held on February 14 and 15, with the International Sea Turtle Symposium held from 17-19 February.

Participation of Pacific Island countries and territories was supported by financial assistance from the Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council, AusAID, Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA-Australia), WWF SPP, IFAW and SPREP.