December 13, 2021

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Photo: Conflict Islands Conservation Initiative

By Hayley Versace, General Manager, Conflict Islands Resort and Conflict Islands Hope Spot Champion


The Conflict Islands are one of just two Hope Spots in Papua New Guinea. The Conflict Islands are a privately owned atoll 22 kms by 14 kms wide in the center of a richly biodiverse marine ecosystem. This atoll is connected to several other Hope Spots in the region through the many migratory species that mate, raise their young and feed in these waters.

 

West Irai Island, Conflict Islands (c) Migration Media

 

The conservation work by Conflict Islands Conservation Initiative (CICI), an Australian not-for-profit, has evolved thanks to our growing network of partners and supporters from all over the world, stemming from the support we have had from Mission Blue and Dr. Sylvia Earle’s team. Being recognized as a Hope Spot offers us great support for how important, the Conflict Islands are to the whole marine ecosystem of not only Papua New Guinea but to other connected Hope Spots.

CICI’s conservation projects are young, and the environment is harsh and hostile at times, but through all the difficulties, we have an enduring amount of hope for the future as we enter a time of change and heightened awareness. The pandemic has been an extremely challenging time for many conservation organizations. Here at CICI, the only programs we have been continuing throughout this time are our Marine Debris and Turtle Monitoring and Protection Program, as most of the funding for our work came from “voluntourism”, which ceased operation when COVID-19 closed down the world.

 

 

Green turtle weigh-in (c) Migration Media Underwater Imaging

 

Despite these challenges, our 2020-2021 turtle nesting season, which falls annually between October until April each year, was extremely successful. We were able to add 162 new turtles to our nesting database and we released more than 13,672 healthy hatchlings from our hatchery to the wild, including 6,230 critically endangered Hawksbill turtle hatchlings and 7,442 endangered Green turtle hatchlings. We are so fortunate to have seen an astonishing 92% success rate among all nests that were translocated to our hatchery.

 

Eggs in turtle nest (c) Media Underwater Imaging

 

Another great success was the co-authoring of new research by our marine biologist Hayley Versace on cooling techniques for turtle nests (Trialling seawater irrigation to combat the high nest temperature feminization of green turtle Chelonia mydas hatchlings. Smith et al, 2021), which is the first step in introducing these much-needed techniques to remote and hard-to-access locations with very limited resources.

As a result, we made it our mission this season (2021-2022) to increase our efforts and have doubled the size of our Community Conservation Ranger team, education and training program. CICI is now proud to have rangers representing us from 11 different community groups and nine different islands. Their training and work will continue over the 6-month nesting season and will instill long-lasting skills and knowledge that they can impart to their communities and families in future seasons.

 

Ranger Steve taking turtle measurements. (c) Migration Media Underwater Imaging

 

The nesting period commences around the start of November and since then, our team of Community Conservation Rangers has translocated more than 80 nests (approximately 6800 eggs), nearly filling half of the capacity of our existing hatchery. Currently, each night we have more than 20 encounters with nesting turtles across the atoll with more missed through the night, and we are yet to reach the peak of the season, which usually occurs in mid-December until mid-January. Until now, we had approximately 300 recordings of nesting turtles in 20 days of nightly patrolling. Compared to last season, this is a huge increase.

 

Turtle hatchling in nursery tank (c) Migration Media Underwater Imaging

 

In 2020 CICI secured a powerful partnership with the well-renowned organization Take 3 for the Sea. Last year alone the rangers on the islands collected a staggering 1,928 kgs of marine debris off the shoreline consisting of 123,328 pieces of plastic! This plastic was collected, weighed, sorted, and recorded by our team of rangers on the ground. This year in the preamble to the turtle nesting season, our Community Conservation Rangers collected 893 kgs of marine debris from the shores of the atolls islands consisting of 42,651 pieces of plastic in just one month! The rangers will continue to do collections while in the field to help maintain a healthy environment on the islands.

We look forward to what seems likely to be our busiest season on record and keep the hope alive for the future of these iconic animals here at the Conflict Islands.

 

 

 

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