The green turtle (Chelonia mydas: Endangered) is one of the largest turtles inhabiting tropical and sub-tropical waters. In Papua New Guinea (PNG) the adult turtles are often hunted for their meat while their eggs are harvested for food. As a consequence turtles are often scarce in Papua New Guinea. Unlike other sea turtles the primary diet of green turtles is marine plant material especially seagrasses and seaweed.
In 2014 WCS conducted in depth biodiversity and social surveys of Mussau, an island 160 kilometres north of Kavieng in New Island Province. The island was well known for having a large turtle population. However, our turtle surveys in 2016 have found turtle densities around the island to be highly variable. Two villages, Nae and Lolieng, are separated by just 33 kilometres of coastline have very different turtle densities. For example, the reef crest at Lolieng supports an average of 7 turtles per hectare whereas the same habitat at Nae has only 0.2 turtles per ha.
Communities on Mussau also identified that turtles were a major competitor for an edible seaweed and suggested that they were damaging seagrass beds. As a result the locals proposed a turtle cull as a solution. Thanks to intervention by WCS the cull has been averted. WCS is continuing to work with the communities to lessen human-turtle conflict through a multi-pronged through a project funded by the Critical Ecosystems Partnership which addresses food security, community development, and is using a science based approach to understand the disappearance of the seagrass and seaweed.
Partners: Darwin Initiative and The Christensen Fund Key staff: Azalea Anota