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Asia Dive News : WWF Report: Tri-national commitment in Pacific raises hope for leatherback conservation

Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea – At a recent Pacific Islands Forum meeting, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands committed to developing a tri-national partnership focused on conserving the critically endangered western Pacific leatherback turtle within the Bismarck-Solomon Seas Ecoregion. The beaches of these three countries support the largest remaining leatherback turtle populations in the Pacific Ocean. 

“We have a major responsibility to secure the future of this regional marine ambassador,” said William Duma, Papua New Guinea's Minister of Environment and Conservation. 

The tri-national partnership recognizes the need to protect and manage the marine resources of the region across the geopolitical boundaries that divide it, providing an example of cross-boundary leadership and cooperation. The partnership — with anticipated support and commitment of the international community — will also promote conservation through the systematic exchange of information and data on research, population, migratory routes, nesting sites and feeding areas of Western Pacific leatherback turtles. 

Leatherbacks are found throughout the Bismarck-Solomon Seas Ecoregion, a biologically diverse area stretching 2.5 million sq km. from the Bird's Head (Doberai) Peninsula of Papua, across the Admiralty and Bismarck archipelagos of Papua New Guinea, to Makira Island of the Solomon Islands. The ecoregion is also home to approximately three million people of which 80 per cent rely on coastal resources for their livelihoods. 

“Protecting the Bismarck and Solomon Seas seascape is globally significant for a number of ecosystems and species, ranging from coral reefs to migratory species such as tuna and whales,” said Jim Leape, WWF International's Director General designate.   

“The ecoregion is also a critical nesting site for the Western Pacific leatherback and has been identified as a global priority area for conservation and sustainable management by scientific, government and community experts.” 

Leatherback turtles and their habitats are threatened by human activities, including egg poaching, habitat destruction, incidental mortality from fishing gears, pollution and poorly planned coastal development. 

Critical to the success of the tri-national partnership is the commitment of local communities to conservation. Recognizing this commitment, representatives of community groups from Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands were presented at the Pacific Islands meeting with Community Leadership certificates by WWF. 

“It is very important to acknowledge their leadership,” said Lisette Wilson, WWF's Bismarck Solomon Seas coordinator. “As custodians of the sea, they have willingly set aside their customary areas for the conservation of the critically endangered leatherback turtle.” 

The three governments will meet in the Solomon Islands in February 2006 to finalize the partnership and agree upon a joint action plan for the conservation of the leatherback turtle in the Bismark Solomon Seas Ecoregion.


• The presentation of community certificates and acknowledgement of governments took place at a side event, hosted by WWF, Papua New Guinea's Department of Environment and Conservation and partners of the Council for the Regional Organizations of the Pacific (CROP) Segment of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Leaders Summit. 

• Leatherback turtles are classified as critically endangered. In recent years the numbers of both the eastern and western Pacific leatherback have plummeted. Some populations in the region have declined by as much as 90 per cent in the last twenty years. 

• WWF, in partnership with other organizations, is helping address the fishing threat by encouraging the use of turtle excluder devices in trawl nets to prevent entrapment of turtles. More recently, WWF and government and industry partners are promoting the use of circle hooks for longline fishing, which has proven to significantly reduce accidental capture of turtles without harming fishing catches.  .

Source: WWF