By NELLIE SETEPANO
PAPUA New Guinea’s many beaches and near reefs are homes to marine turtles.
While turtle conservation programs have been initiated in parts of the country, some areas that are significant in nature, lack turtle conservation programs.
It is in these areas that local consumption of turtles for eggs and meat go without saving any. One such area is the Jomard Island in the Milne Bay Province.
A young woman from Brooker Island in Jomard is determined to save her turtles for future generations. Liberty Betuel agrees that turtles are red listed as threatened species and something drastic must happen to save them.
Jomard, according to traditional knowledge, the people of Brooker have witnessed as nesting ground for turtles, as the white sandy beaches of the little islands within the Jomard area are populated with both Hawksbill turtles and Green turtles during the months of November, December and January. The cluster of islands in Brooker Ward of Louisuiade district is made up the Venaliwa, Gulewa, Panaial (one and two) and Brooker Islands. The ward has a population of less than half a thousand. These islands are clustered near the international shipping passage-Jomard Passage. The islands lay approximately 60 km southwest of the main administration of Misima Island.
Tagging did once take place and co-ordinated by Conservation International Alotau when Brooker was one of CI’s project sites.
Liberty grew up on the islands where turtles nest and hatch and found their home out at sea.
She remembers rearing them as pets and then setting them free to the ocean when they were big enough.
“They were part of our life, food and survival in a customary way.” Nobody knew how much they were decreasing every year.”
Liberty only realised when she joined Conservation International Milne Bay Project she realised how lucky her islands were surrounded by these huge marine creatures and the beauty that surrounds them.
She recalls her father, a former announcer for Radio Milne Bay Joseph Betuel who introduced her to turtle farming in 2009, during two nesting seasons.
He father applied traditional methods with no expert advice. Those that survived in his nest were kept for a period of six months than released. Her father releases an estimate of more than 200 Green turtles.
Liberty promised her father she would continue the conservation program. “I was then touched to move fast when the ban with Beche-de-mer by National Fisheries Authority was forcing the locals to harvest turtles in large numbers and at the nesting grounds to sell for cash,” Ms Betuel said.
The Brooker Island woman did not stop; her attempts to save the turtles took her to Madang last year to gather Marine Turtle Biology Training in Madang co-ordinated by an Environmental activist Wenceslaus Magun. With a help from SK Wilson and Associates and her husband’s expenses she received training at Madang facilitated by Marine Biologist.
During her one week training she chose two things in relations to marine.
These are; turtle tagging and monitoring and for her and her community and; marine protected area (MPA) for her father and his clan as they have a clan island where fishing with nets and driving is restricted for the past five years.
Ms Liberty also wants to involved coral planting, seaweed planting, and clam farming within the MPA where women and young girls and boys should be able to learn and implement skills from experts who will be invited to do training or facilitate future workshops as part of the long term plans of the project.
Ms Betuel wanted to initiate her project from December 2012 to January 2013 (nesting season) but she failed to secure funds. Despite the lack of funding Liberty is not stopping because she believes in positive outcomes. She has a community backing and a link with a women’s association to assist. She currently resides in the nation’s capital and finds the residence a central location for her project to be effected because communication and information gathering is easy and cheap for a start.