* Educating local communities
on the importance of sustaining nesting sites for leatherback turtles is a
way to save them. ALISON ANIS writes. *
TO SAVE the
remaining species of the endangered population of giant leatherback sea
turtles in the Western Pacific, sending the right messages to local
communities on the importance of conservation and in sustaining the
nesting population could be a useful remedy.
This is true especially
for communities living along the north-coast of PNG which holds one of the
largest traditional nesting sites for the leatherbacks in the
Here, more than 40 km of pristine black sandy beach stretches
along the north-coast of Madang province.
The beach where the local
people once slaughtered female leatherbacks for protein is gradually
becoming a safe haven for this critically endangered species.
members are now locked in hands in one last desperate attempt to save the
depleting stock of leatherback population from near extinction.
villagers from Karkum, Mirap, Yadigam, Tokain, Malas, Dibor, Magubem, and
Sabente who once hunted and feasted on the excess meat from nesting
leatherbacks are now trying to right their wrongs to save them after
realizing how their actions may have contributed to the decline in the
The Sea Turtle Restoration Project (STRP) in the
Western Pacific has been responsible for the successful transformation of
the mindset and attitude of villagers towards preserving these rare turtle
STRP western pacific campaigner Wences Magun and his group of
trainers after several consultations visited the villages in January 2007
and spread the message about the leatherback’s precarious
Before that villagers were unaware of leatherbacks’ status
as an endangered species as designated by IUCN (World Conservation
However, the alarm bells may have been sounded a little too
In 2004, three years before the project was established, it was
reported that villagers in the area slaughtered and feasted on more than
100 leatherback turtles that came to nest there. The reports were alarming
and have caused widespread remorse among many community members after
learning of the plight of the turtles.
With the help of Mr Magun the
communities have learnt much about the sea turtles and rather than
harvesting the turtles and their eggs as they have traditionally done, are
now taking steps to save and protect them. The villagers have embarked on
a community-driven conservation program.
In 2007, Mr Magun under STRP
developed and facilitated a yearlong series of Conservation Deed workshops
With the deed Mr Magun said he and his team were able to
set up a pilot project purposely to create awareness and educate
traditional communities in Madang on the leatherback turtle, its
significant link to the country and the need to protect and preserve
“More than 3500 people from six communities successfully took
part in this project. The communities include Karkum, Mirap, Yadigam,
Magubem, and Sabente,” said Mr Magun.
The locals through the project
learnt about destructive human activities (such as over fishing) toward
the leatherback turtle and other marine resources and how their actions
towards these marine resources and especially the leatherbacks would
affect them and their children in the future.
Mr Magun said
communities responded really well under the project and for the first time
were able to appreciate the importance of their marine resources and the
need to protect them.
“We only helped in establishing the project and
providing guidance but the communities took ownership of the project,
making their own policies, rules and penalties for conservations and
management for marine resource areas,” said Mr Magun.
He said villagers
along the coast had traditional links with the leatherbacks and after the
training some of them even visited their nesting place and try to identify
“We also ran building capacity trainings for each member of
the communities to understand issues affecting their resources and lives.
The idea was to change their mindset and to value more their
“We told the villagers that if they continue to slaughter
the turtles they will not continue to enjoy the same benefits they have
today because one day these animals will become extinct.”
awareness and training the locals knew better and were taking whatever
necessary actions they can at the community level to protect the rare
The community is also involved in carrying out its
own boundary survey for nesting and breeding sites for leatherbacks using
the latest GPS monitoring system. They have just completed the boundary
survey between Mirap and Karkum and work is to extend to other communities
Mr Magun is focused on working with coastal communities
where critically endangered leatherbacks nest. Regular travels between his
base in PNG’s capital, Port Moresby and areas in Morobe and Madang
provinces on the north coast of PNG where villagers are
Villagers are now in the process of establishing “conservation
deeds” through which they promise to protect sea turtles for 10 years.
Trainings organized by Wence also deal with other development and
environmental issues affecting communities and have motivated them to
protect and use their resources to improve their lives.
have now taken the lead towards establishing their own conservation deeds
and mark out land for marine protected areas. They are Karkum, Mirap,
Yadigam, Tokain, Magubem and Sabente.
According to Mr Magun some of
these communities have already established conservation deed marine
management areas and rules and penalties under the conservation of marine
resources including sea turtles.
“I some cases penalties include a fine
of K200 and 6 months community work if you kill a leatherback. The same
applies if someone is caught harvesting leatherback eggs.”
villagers conservation efforts have so far save more than two hundred
leatherbacks hatchlings and ten adults.
Conservation Deeds are a
relatively new innovation in PNG, spearheaded by the work of the Bismarck
Ramu Group (BRG).
It is result of a community-driven process that
creates a locally managed conservation area, and a long term community
stake in the protection of natural resources in ways that also meet the
economic and social needs of the community.
“An informed and educated
community will take active roles and be prudent guardians of their
resources. The efforts STRP is investing in with coastal communities in
the region are priceless.... We hope to help transform people’s minds and
attitudes to become active stewards of creation,” says Mr