Sea Shepherd has expanded its international marine conservation efforts, launching a new collaboration with Conflict Islands Conservation Initiative (CICI) to protect critically endangered turtles from poaching in the Conflict Islands, Papua New Guinea (PNG).
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, CICI has been unable to run their volunteer programme and community outreach, resulting in a lack of funding to pay for rangers to protect the turtles and the thousands of eggs they will produce between November 2020 and February 2021.
The Conflict Islands are known as one of Sylvia Earle’s Hope Spots.¹ The Islands are an important nesting site for hawksbill and green sea turtles, both of which are listed as critically endangered and endangered respectively at an international level by IUCN. Neither species are protected under PNG law.
As part of the anti-poaching campaign, Sea Shepherd will provide the funding that will allow for the recruitment of a team of eight rangers from the local community. These rangers will patrol the atoll’s 21 islands from poaching turtles during turtle nesting season 2020-21.
Sea Shepherd Australia’s Managing Director Jeff Hansen said: “Sea Shepherd is best known for our boots on the ground approach. However, we also fill voids and in this case, there is a group on the ground defending turtles. Due to COVID-19, there is a lack of funding and they need help so we, along with our supporters, become the enablers.”
Since 2017, CICI has been protecting and conserving the natural environment of the Conflict Islands and its surrounding marine habitat. CICI works closely with communities to provide education, training and improve the conservation of marine ecosystems and associated species.
CICI’s Operations Manager Hayley Versace said: ”By far the hardest part of what we do here is trying to protect marine turtle populations and the lives of many other marine species that for centuries have inhabited these remote islands”.
“Faced with many anthropogenic threats, turtle populations are in decline in PNG. We are aware of populations being driven to local extinction on neighbouring islands due to unsustainable use and take, but the Conflict Islands may be green and hawksbill turtles last safe refuge and Hope Spot.
“By providing employment through eco-tourism, our conservation ranger roles and awareness programs, we are working together with local communities to raise awareness and protect these magnificent marine turtles, our Islands and wildlife. My goal is to make our wildlife worth more tomorrow, than it is today.”
Sea Shepherd was first approached by Animal Assist, who work tirelessly to provide support to grassroots organisations on the frontline of conservation and animal welfare.
The Founder of Animal Assist, Casey Woodward said: “Facilitating such an important collaboration is really at the core of Animal Assist’s objectives. We are proud and excited to watch the CICI and Sea Shepherd partnership grow to achieve positive conservation outcomes in the South Pacific region.”
Ms Versace said: “Without the support in these difficult times from organisations such as Sea Shepherd and Animal Assist, we would not be able to continue our critical work to protect wildlife and conserve our wild places”.
Around the world, Sea Shepherd is working to defend turtles. In Costa Rica and Réunion Island, Sea Shepherd volunteers currently run similar operations to combat turtle poaching and ensure that nesting sea turtles and their hatchlings make it safely to the sea.
Mr Hansen said, “Sea Shepherd sees the key threats to our oceans as illegal fishing, plastic pollution, climate changes and threats to vulnerable and endangered species. As a result, Sea Shepherd is very proud to stand with Conflict Islands Conservation Initiative and Animal Assist in defence of Endangered and Critically Endangered green and hawksbill turtles respectively.”
“Be that defending whales in the Antarctic from whale poachers, defending sharks from poachers off Timor Leste or in the Gulf of Guinea, or defending turtles from poachers in Mayotte archipelago, Sea Shepherd strives to be as effective as we can with our limited funds and resources to have the biggest impacts we can for the oceans. Given the status of these turtles and the state of our oceans globally, we need to throw in everything we can, as this is a line in the sand for these turtles in PNG.”
An ecological report conducted by Conservation International revealed that the reefs hold more than half the world’s coral species – making the Conflict Islands one of the richest natural habitats in the world.