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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Running a cab to protect turtles in Madang


Arching against the seat of his green sedan cab with his eyes shifting occasionally from the daily newspaper he is reading, to search for a potential passenger, he waits in patience.

Throngs of people gather at the Hohola bus stop in their daily rush for transport to or from work, informal business ventures and other daily chores continue to swell in this bustling and booming city of rising new buildings.

He is not aware that amidst that crowd someone has spotted him. The unknown passenger is keen, curious and wondering why the driver is wasting his precious time behind those wheels.

Without doubt he also joins the ongoing list of many passersby who amongst other inquisitive thoughts wonder whether this cab driver is from the highlands region of Papua New Guinea (PNG) or not.

Dwelling on these thoughts he approaches the cab and to his surprise is greeted with warm welcoming gestures filled with joy from the cab driver: “Good morning bro, how are? Do you want a ride to work?”

“Yes please, can you drop me off at work? He replies with smiles splashing across his grim face as he takes a deep sigh of relief, wipes out some sweat trickling down his face after having his favorite betel nut (buai) and gets into the car. “I have been struggling to catch a bus to work. It’s getting late and I need to get to work quickly.”

As they drive off in this cozy Waves cab along the Poreporena free way on this glorious sunny morning on their way to the central business district of down town Port Moresby, he soon discovers that the driver is from Madang.

He also discovers that the driver is not only driving to make ends meet in these tough economic times to meet the demands for food and other basic needs of a town dweller. To his amazement he finds out that the driver drives to sustain his sea turtle restoration project in the north coast of Madang, in PNG as well.

The driver and owner of Waves Cab is the national coordinator of his newly established organization called Mas Kagin Tapani Association or Makata. After his contract ended with the Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN) a US-based non-government organization in 2009, as their Western Pacific Campaigner for the Sea Turtle Restoration Project (STRP), he established Makata to sustain this program.

With support from TIRN he managed to incorporate this entity and continue to float the organization. The successful implementation of this project is feasible also through funds raised from Waves Cab services, funds from potential donors including WWF-Western Melanesia, Global Greengrants Funds (GGF), and South Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP) and with in-kind support from his family members.

“We would also like to extend our gratitude to Raymond Palangat and staff of World Bank in Port Moresby and to the family and friends of Cathy Edmunds at the Port Moresby International School for the donation of library books which we have donated to schools, communities and churches both within our project sites and in Port Moresby. Special thanks goes also to all the media organizations for promoting this campaign both in PNG and abroad,” he informs his companion.

He pointed out that this project aims to protect and restore the population of the threatened and critically endangered sea turtles including the leatherback turtles or Dermochelys coriacea in the Western Pacific region. To achieve this goal we are working closely with coastal communities in Madang Province, whose beaches these turtles come to nest.

The driver elaborated that this effort complements PNG Government’s initiative to protect and restore the population of the critically endangered turtle species in the region. It also reflects the commitment between the tri-nations (Indonesia, PNG and the Solomon Islands) to achieve this outcome in the region.

“We endeavor to raise awareness about the role and importance of marine turtles in ocean and coastal ecosystems; the numerous natural and man-made threats to these species, many of which are threatened or endangered; and the ways in which individuals, communities, and governments can work together on a range of conservation and recovery activities.”

He continues: “Sea turtles of today have changed little from their ancient reptilian ancestors that appeared on earth millions of years ago before humans. For many years, humans have been exploiting turtles for food and decorative ornaments. In the last 200 years or so, the uncontrollable harvests of adults and juveniles and turtle eggs have caused sea turtle population worldwide to drastically decline. The remaining population is critically endangered and very close to extinction.”

“Is that true? Oh how sad! And how many turtle species live in our ocean?” The curious companion asks.

“Of the seven of world’s marine turtles, six occur in the PNG marine waters. These include the flatback, the green turtle, the hawskbill, leatherback, the loggerhead and olive ridley. Of these six, hawsbill, green turtle and leatherback turtle are most common. From previous survey results and anecdotal information, PNG has some of the largest remaining populations of hawksbill, green turtle and leatherback turtle in the world today. However, these populations and especially the leatherback turtle have rapidly declined,” the driver emphasized.

He highlighted that marine turtles have lived over 100 millions of years. They grow slowly and take between 30-50 years to reach sexual maturity. Some live to be over a 100 years old.

Sadly, all marine turtle species are experiencing serious threats to their survival. The main threats are:
• Pollution which can cause change to the environment – especially reefs and nesting areas;
• Marine turtles are also killed by entanglement in marine debris;
• Incidental catch in active fishing gear;
• Predation by feral animals; changes to habitat; and
• Food sources and indigenous hunting.

As they reached the peak of the Poreperena freeway, the driver points out to the sea over the horizon and reminds his companion:

“Marine turtles migrate long distances of up to 3000 km or between 6,000 miles nesting beaches and home foraging grounds so that impact on animals in one region has far-reaching implications for populations that spun local, regional and national boundaries.”

The driver stressed also that marine turtles have traditionally had strong cultural linkages to local communities along the coastal areas of PNG. To maintain these cultures drastic decline in turtle populations must be able to be put to a stop.

“Many beaches and near shore reefs along the coastal areas of PNG are home to the marine turtles. While turtle conservation programs have been initiated in a few parts of PNG, large areas although significant in nature lack turtle conservation programs. It is in these areas that local consumption of turtle for eggs and meat goes on without saving some of these turtles and eggs.”

“Since establishing this project in 2006 we have enabled Karkum villagers to establish their Locally Managed Marine Areas (LMMAs) using Conservation Deeds (CDs). We hope to continue this process with other coastal communities in our current project sites. Our effort has transformed the mindset of a people that once habitually killed leatherbacks and harvested their eggs for consumption,” he continues.

The group endeavors to empower these communities to develop their own management strategies and to develop and implement conservation initiatives to maximize hatchling production and on-shore survival.

The driver believes that with adequate training these communities will nurture a long-term conservation ethic and will promote turtle conservation efforts in the region.

Project location:

He said their project site is located on the northwest coast of Madang about 70 to 100 kms from Madang town in PNG. This project involves the communities of Karkum, Mirap, Tokain 1 (Yadigam), Tokain 2, Magubem, and Kimadi comprising of more than 3,000 people. Although this location does not boast of having the highest number of leatherback turtles frequenting its beaches when the project was first established compared to the Huon coast project in the Morobe Province, PNG covering the villages of Paiawa, Kamiali, Buli and Labu Tale, it remains to be the first model site for establishing a turtle conservation project using a locally managed marine area (LMMA) using conservation deed (CD).

Project Description

“Our project may not be the largest and “sexiest” compared to the Huon coast, in Lae Morobe Province, PNG, but we have made an impact in that we have transformed the mindset of a people that once habitually killed leatherbacks and harvested their eggs for consumption.”

“These communities have appreciated the values of the species and are now protecting and restoring them. But that is still not sufficient. We know that more needs to be done if we are to achieve an overriding objective of this project in determining the nesting population size and developing management strategies for each of the communities engaged in this project,” he stressed.

“It is our desire to review the first turtle training workshop we had initiated on the management strategies concept in which we had encouraged participants to identify issues and solutions to these issues and assist them develop their management plans with an ultimate aim of building their capacity to sustain this program,” he reiterated.

In addition, he pointed out that the turtle training aims to train beach rangers from these communities to develop and implement conservation initiatives to maximize hatchling production and on-shore survival.

“With adequate training we are optimistic the communities will nurture a long-term conservation ethic and will become role models in sharing and working with other communities to promote turtle conservation efforts in the region,” he said.

“We also want to complete the process of establishing LMMAs using CDs in Kimadi, Magubem, Tokain, Yadigam and Mirap where our current project site is located by the end of 2012 or in the coming years.”

The story had captivated his companion so much so that he did not realize that they had reached his point of hire. Leaving the car he thanked the driver as he hands over a K20.00 and requests for more information.

To the driver’s companion and to those who want to learn more about our turtle’s conservation initiative please log onto: or view a Short movie about our project by Scott Waide:

Other Outstanding Accomplishments

Other outstanding achievements included a paper he presented to an international audience at the Griffith University on the 29th International Sea Turtle Symposium in Brisbane, Australia from the 17 to 19 of February 2009. In his talk he promoted the Conservation Deed Approach of establishing marine protected areas to protect and restore the turtle’s population in the Western Pacific region.

He also presented a paper to participants at a meeting organized by CSIRO (Australia) at the Moreton Bay Research Station, Queensland-Australia from the 17th to 19th of June 2009. His report titled: “Can direct conservation payments promote environmental conservation and livelihood enhancement in selected sites/circumstances?” This talk aimed at finding a way forward to achieving the Eight Millennium Development Goals through direct conservation payments to communities who promote environmental conservation outcomes.

Donations to support this effort can be deposited into:
Mas Kagin Tapani Association (Bank of South Pacific Waigani Branch) Cheque Account Number: 1001546953. Its SWIFT Code is BOSPPGPM. Internal Revenue Commission’s Tax File Number is: TC 8662
For further information please
Mr. Wenceslaus Magun on:
Ph: + (675)719 59665 or
P.O. Box 1312, Port
Moresby, National Capital District,
Papua New Guinea.

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