Conflict Islands Conservation Initiative

Turtle Conservation at the Conflicts

The Conflict Islands are a group of 20+ uninhabited islands, located in the middle of the Coral Sea in Alotau, Papua New Guinea. The coral atoll is home to a rich, biodiverse ecosystem of marine life, frequented by two particular species of sea turtles; the green and hawksbill turtle.

During the summer, I was given the opportunity through UTS and BUILD Abroad, to join 8 other volunteers, and a team of extremely motivated and inspirational staff, to take part in the CICI Turtle Tagging Internship. This program revolves around providing data to help develop an understanding of the turtle populations residing and nesting at the Conflict Islands.

CICI have successfully developed an internship that aims to protect and promote the populations of turtles that visit the islands during nesting season. As part of the program, we would partake in night patrols of the main islands, searching for females nesting to relocate her eggs back to the main island Panasesa to be buried in safely guarded turtle hatcheries. From there, all the healthy and able hatchlings would be released into the ocean to start their life journey, whilst those that looked like they needed a little extra love and attention would become residents in the islands turtle nursery, until they looked strong enough for release.

Not only are the turtles of the Conflicts subject to some of today’s environmental pressures, including climate change and plastic pollution, they are also extremely vulnerable to poaching by PNG locals, for food and egg harvesting, as well as use of their stunning shells for tourism trade. CICI’s work with the local communities in trying to raise awareness of these issues and the variety of threats facing their turtle populations is commendable.

The tagging of the turtles also creates a baseline dataset of the juveniles, which can be used for future study into the return of nesting females. When the tags are applied, their numbers are recorded and entered into a global monitoring database, along with other information about the individual, including carapace size, any existing tags from other studies, or any obvious injuries. The tags also carry the PO Box of the main island, which is useful information for travelling turtles who have been tracked using satellite tags, swimming all the way to Australia and other neighbouring countries.

My time at the Conflict Islands was incredible, inspiring, and eye-opening. It has firmly and unquestionably confirmed my passion for environmental conservation, and in particular, the importance of marine preservation. I’m also so grateful for being able to visit such a beautiful place, and have the opportunity to dive, and be submerged in the vibrant sea life that makes up the Conflicts. The amazing efforts of the CICI staff and my fellow volunteers made my experience unforgettable.

Nicole Dilernia, Bachelor of Marine Biology, UTS

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