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Rising Sea Level Threatens Leatherback Turtles Nesting Sites

Rising sea-levels are eroding the nesting sites and diverting leatherback turtles from their traditional sites and moving them to other sites.

In June 2007 during one of my field trips to STRP’s pilot project sites in north coast about one and half hours drive from Madang town, in Papua New Guinea, I observed vast stretches of devastated sea shores, and beaches/dumes.

I recalled these scenic and pristine black sandy beaches that stretched for abaut 40 kilometers from Karkum  through Mirap, Yadigam, Tokain, Malas, Dibor, and Sabente villages that we had visited in the fall of 2006 and wondered what impact these devastation will have on the surviving leatherback turtles that come to nest there.

Huge strong waves caused by rising sea levels and strong winds had spewed huge rocks, debris of dead trees, onto these dumes, leaving behind foot prints of many broken canoes,  torn down village houses, exposed tree roots, uprooted trees, shrubs and destruction to the leatherback turtles nesting sites.

In the fall of 2006 I had been reliably informed by our STRP volunteers that about 10 leatherback turtles had come to nest along this bountiful beach.  Sadly in the fall of 2007 we had witnessed only one leatherback turtle come to nest in Yadigam.

The drop in the number of leatherback turtles that come to nest may be caused by other eminent threats such as the commercial developments, overfishing using longlines and gillnets, pollution and marine debris but I cannot brush aside the fact that rising sea level is if not one of the major threats that needs immediate attention.

Two weeks ago I was fortunate to walk along the beach from Karkum to Mirap as we were doing the boundary survey using GPS, and was shown kilometers of beaches that are now under the sea that were 40 years ago homes to these village folks.

I have no doubt that this same experience will be told to the next generation decades later that the on shore boundary survey that we have just taken will be included under the offshore boundary and wondered whether there will be any more leatherback turtles left then to come and nest.