Papua New Guinea is identified as first on the list worldwide for being one of 10 countries accounting for more than 90% of legal turtle takes each year.
The findings from a science journal show that since 1980, it is estimated that more than 2 million turtles have been legally taken in these countries with current levels of less than 60 per cent (<60%) of those in the 1980s.
This alarming report has instigated the Coordinator for Mas Kagin Tapani (MAKATA), Wences Magun to call for an emergency approach to be taken by the PNG government to save the remaining population of the endangered green (Chelonia mydas), hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricate) and critically endangered leatherback (Demochelys coriacea) turtles which are at the brink of extinction in the region.
“Out of 42 countries and territories that permit direct take of turtle and collectively take in excess of 42,000 turtles per year, the majority of which (>80%) are green turtles Chelonia mydas (Linnaeus 1758), ten countries account for more than 90% of legal take each year with PNG (36.1%) and Nicaragua (22.3%) accounting for more than half of the total global take,” according to a Biodiversity Research journal titled – So excellent a fishe: a global overview of legal marine turtle fisheries, F. Hunter el al, 2014.
The report concluded that mortality estimate through recorded bycatch is significantly under recorded and far greater than the total level of directed legal take. This hampers the ability to access the relative impacts of these threats to marine turtles.
The report provides the most comprehensive global synthesis of the legal take of turtles in recent years and suggests that legal take has the potential to be a driver of marine turtles population dynamics, comparable to mortality estimate through recorded bycatch.
This report calls for immediate actions to be taken to address the plight of the sea turtles.
“We are calling on the National Fisheries Authority, the Department of Environment and Conservation and lined agencies to take immediate steps to address this issue by decreasing the number of legal turtle takes each year or set a complete turtle take ban following this report,” Mr Magun said.
“We are deeply worried by this alarming report. As we attempt to save critically endangered turtles by working with local coastal communities who share the beaches these turtles come to nest, major threats caused by fishing companies through legal turtle take, defeats our endeavours and mission,” he stressed.
He said, the critically endangered leatherback (Demochelys coriacea) turtles, that travels 6,000 miles across national and international waters from California and Gulf of Mexico and takes more than two years to reach PNG to nest is at the brink of extinction with just 5% of the population remaining.
“Efforts by the coastal communities to save and restore their population may not be achieved if ongoing legal turtle take is not reduced or banned totally in PNG waters,” Mr Magun reiterated.
He warned that industrial legal turtle take could also contribute to loss of food, income, and extinction of cultural and spiritual values held by certain indigenous tribal people in PNG in connection with the turtles.
Coastal communities in Kimadi, Magubem, Tokain, Yadigam, Mirap, Karkum, Sarang, in north coast and Mur, Lakol, Male and Bom-Sagar in Rai Coast, Madang are taking steps to establish locally managed marine areas with support from MAKATA to save these endangered turtles in PNG.
He warned that the legal turtle take and unrecorded turtle bycatch will also defeat the initiative of the PNG, Solomon Islands and Jakarta for signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in 2006 to conserve and manage the western Pacific leatherback turtle nesting sites, feeding areas and migratory routes in the three states.