Reflections of Papua New Guinea

During the first two weeks in December, I took place in a volunteer program in Papua New Guinea, tagging and surveying turtle populations among the Conflict Islands. 

the following was a typical day spent on board the research boat

Majority of our work as volunteers was done during the night, when patrolling the islands in groups to find any Green or Hawksbill turtles.  Giving us a chance in the morning to either sleep in, perhaps read a book, go kayaking or scuba diving amongst the amazing reef. With crystal clear waters, 98 ft visibilty when diving and marine life including reef sharks, mantarays and the stunning red sea fans, its easy to see it is any divers paradise  Once and morning activities were over and lunch was eaten, a chart would tell you your duty for the day, whether it be helping in the kitchen, bathroom cleaning duty, data entry or on the funner side helping in the turtle nursery. This involved making up their food programs, measuring their size and weight and feeding them tiny cubes of food from a toothpick. attending to theses injured or recovering turtles was by far the best morning duty to be put on.

At 6pm, Nat, our marine biologist  running the program would write our teams and islands we would be visiting on the white board. Our guides were locals who also lived in on the boat during the turtle nesting season and were from surrounding island groups. They were hunters that Nat had approached and offered jobs in place of poaching. Meaning they new all the islands like the back of their hands already. Upon talking to nat and realising the declining populations of this species, they had become a team truely passionate about the conservation project. We would take the dingy’s from the boat to our designated islands, equipped with a snack bag of Arnotts biscuits, water, mosquito spray and all of our data sheets and tagging equipment. One we had made base we would walk laps of the islands from 6pm to around 12pm-2am depending on the tides. If the tide went out too quickly, the turtles couldn’t come up over the rocks. On an average night we would tag between 2 and 5 turtles, which sadly is quite a low amount, regardless of the moon and tide during these first two weeks. If we found a turtle we would log its shell size, species, gps locations and amount of eggs laid. Then we would tag each flipper with a metal id tag number. If she had laid her eggs in a vulnerable spot we would relocate these back to the hatchery on the main island.

Once we headed back to boat we would all have a cup of tea, a de-brief and a sleep, ready for the following day.

When patrolling the islands, our guides would climb the coconut trees for us and build bonfires to keep away the mosquitos. The 11 other volunteers and our guides on these patrols became such great friends. With the amount of time spent together each night, we truely got to have some great conversations. Over the two weeks it was amazing to learn of their culture, traditions, reasoning for hunting and reasons for stopping. It was a an amazing experience and I hope to be able to go back again year after year.

Ella Bessen

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