Sea Shepherd X CICI: Defending turtles in the Conflict Islands

Friday, 05 Aug, 2022

For the second year in a row, Sea Shepherd has helped to defend vulnerable turtles in Papua New Guinea in partnership with Conflict Islands Conservation Initiative (CICI).

The Conflict Islands is a pristine tropical island atoll in Papua New Guinea (PNG) made up of 21 coral islands. These picturesque islands provide an important nesting site for critically endangered Hawksbill Turtles and endangered Green Turtles, both of which are extremely vulnerable to illegal poachers and the increasing environmental threat of marine plastic pollution. Sadly, neither species are protected under PNG law. 

Since 2017, ​​Conflict Islands Conservation Initiative (CICI) - a grassroots organisation based in the Conflict Islands - has been successfully running a turtle conservation program in the area to protect these turtles. This program has relied on international volunteers and tourism to resource and fund this vital work, but when the COVID-19 pandemic landed on the world’s doorstep, the volunteers stopped arriving. With limited resources on the ground and a massive shortfall in funding, turtle populations were left more vulnerable than ever. 

It is believed that approximately only 1 in 1,000 turtle hatchlings survive to maturity. Facing countless threats including plastic pollution, climate change, poaching and predators on both land and in the sea, baby turtles are up against huge odds right from the very beginning.

Turtle hatchlings at the Conflict Islands. Photo: CICI

Sea Shepherd Steps In 

In 2020/21 Sea Shepherd stepped in to help. Thanks to the generosity of Sea Shepherd supporters, we provided the funding to recruit a team of eight rangers from the local community. This collaboration helped provide safe passage into the ocean for over 13,000 Hawksbill and Green Turtle hatchlings; the highest number on record!

"Without the support from Sea Shepherd, here at CICI, our anti-poaching and turtle protection program would not have gone ahead for the 2020 – 2021 nesting season. Thanks to this support, we were able to protect thousands of hatchlings and release them into the wild, and hundreds of nesting female turtles were protected from poaching from the islands in Papua New Guinea."

- Hayley Versace, CICI Project Coordinator & Marine Biologist

This year, our collaboration expanded, getting more local rangers on the ground protecting these precious turtles.

Turtle hatchlings make their way to the water. Photo: CICI

Our 2021/22 program

This season, Sea Shepherd x CICI's turtle conservation collaboration was focused on monitoring and protecting marine turtle populations of the Conflict Islands atoll from human-made threats.  

Thanks to the generosity of incredible Sea Shepherd supporters, we were able to fund an additional ten trainee rangers from the local community who were on the ground, implementing the program and defending precious turtle populations.

“Today, more than ever, collaboration, partnerships and working with like-minded organisations and passionate people will be the key to saving our ocean and its inhabitants. At Sea Shepherd Australia, we are committed to actively working alongside organisations and individuals who, every day, make significant contributions to the protection of our ocean and the conservation of our planet.”

- Jeff Hansen, Sea Shepherd Australia Managing Director

Results from the 2021/22 partnership:

10 new Turtle Conservation Community Rangers

- 655 new turtles tagged

- 53,164 endangered turtle hatchlings hatched and released into the wild

3 tonnes of marine debris removed from the shores of the Conflict Islands

Where are the Conflict Islands and why are they important? 

The Conflict Islands atoll, located in the heart of the Coral triangle in Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea has been designated as a ‘Hope Spot’ by leading oceanographer, explorer and conservationist, Sylvia Earle. This title is given to “special places that are critical to the health of the ocean” and its assignment to the Conflict Islands should come as no surprise. An ecological report conducted by Conservation International revealed that the Conflict Islands' reefs hold more than half the world’s coral species – making the islands one of the richest natural habitats in the world.

In addition to providing habitat for nesting turtles, the turquoise waters around the islands are home to an array of incredible marine life; from tiny ghost pipefish to gargantuan manta rays and tiger sharks.

See images from the 2021/22 collaboration:

Rangers with turtle hatchlings. Photo: CICI
Turtle hatchlings make their way to the water. Photo: CICI
Rangers removing marine debris from turtle nesting habitat. Photo: CICI
A turtle hatchling in care emerges from its egg. Photo: CICI
Data is collected from nesting turtles surveys. Photo: CICI
An albino turtle hatched during the program. Photo: CICI
Rangers at the Conflict Islands. Photo: CICI
Turtle hatchlings released on the beach. Photo: CICI
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