South Pacific aims to improve leatherback turtle protection

Posted on 23 November 2004
Leatherback turtle hatchlings heading to sea.
© WWF / Roger LeGuen
Honiara, Solomon Islands - A coalition of environmentalists and local villagers in the Pacific are working together to save marine turtles from the brink of extinction.
Guided by the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme's (SPREP) Regional Marine Turtle Conservation Programme action plan, and facilitated by WWF, participants from throughout Melanesia met in the Solomon Islands to develop a three-year plan of priority actions to support regional turtle conservation in this region, particularly for the Leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea).

According to a recent SPREP report, populations of Leatherback turtles in the Pacific region have fallen by 97 per cent in 22 years. 

Recent estimates of numbers show that this species is declining precipitously throughout its range, particularly in the Pacific over the last twenty years. As few as 2,300 adult females now remain, making the Pacific leatherback the world's most endangered marine turtle population.

“As turtles are a migratory species, there is a great need for cross–boundary networking, information exchange, and collaboration if we are to provide maximum protection for these animals during their journeys from nesting to foraging sites,” said Lisette Wilson, WWF’s coordinator for the Bismarck-Solomon Seas Ecoregion programme. 

Actions identified at the meeting included raising the profile of community-based research and monitoring; reviving the use of traditional environmental knowledge; increasing the level of training for communities; and exploring the possibility of holding another Year of the Sea Turtle awareness campaign in 2006. 
Delegates also emphasized the need to assess current legislation and policy to improve turtle protection and law enforcement, including issues of by-catch and cross–boundary collaboration. 

A Melanesian Marine Turtle Conservation Network was established to promote improving information sharing on marine turtle research.

“The outcomes of the workshop will significantly enhance the objectives of WWF's ecoregion programme by building partnerships and implementing conservation activities in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Indonesia," Wilson said.

“It will also deliver a comprehensive action plan for Leatherback and other migratory species in the region.”

• WWF South Pacific organized the marine turtle forum with funding from the Canada-South Pacific Ocean Development Program though the SPREP Regional Marine Turtle Conservation Programme and from the Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council. 

• The Bismark-Solomon Seas — covering the waters of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands — is one of WWF's Global 200 ecoregions,  a science-based global ranking of the world's most biologically outstanding habitats and the regions on which WWF concentrates its efforts.

For further information:
Jackie Healy, Conservation Manager
WWF-Soloman Islands