This brings the total number of turtles released by the Nature Park to 45.
The release wraps up a five-year conservation project managed by the Nature Park and funded by ExxonMobil PNG Limited (EMPNG) in collaboration with the Piku Biodiversity Network, University of Canberra and Wau Creek Conservation Area. This was the final release of turtles that were taken into the care of the Park, with 15 turtles released in September of the previous year.
Port Moresby Nature Park's Curator, Brett Smith, explained that “the 'Head Start program' is where newborn animals are collected from the wild where their chance of survival in the wild is lowest. They are then safely cared for in suitable facilities while they grow bigger and stronger before being returned to the wild with a much higher chance of survival”.
Pig-nosed turtles are a freshwater species native to Northern Australia, Indonesian West Papua and Papua New Guinea. They are categorised as “endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species due primarily to illegal smuggling and overhunting.
From birth, their chance of survival in the wild is less than 1 percent as their tiny size, around 5cm, makes them vulnerable to predators such as fish, crocodiles and birds. It is also the reason that there is not much known about their behaviour in the earlier stage of life.
The return of the pig-nosed turtles was a carefully coordinated activity involving months of planning. Port Moresby Nature Park teamed with EMPNG, Tropicair, PNG’s Conservation and Environment Protection Authority, Local Level Government leaders, local community groups and Frank John, the local conservationist from Wau Creek Conservation Area, to ensure that the release of the 27 turtles went smoothly.
Tropicair flew the turtles from Port Moresby to Kikori, Gulf Province, accompanied by Brett Smith and Ishimu Bebe, Port Moresby Nature Park's Wildlife Manager. They were specially housed in individual holding tubs to ensure that they travelled comfortably, before being transferred onto a boat for a 2.5-hour ride to Wau Creek where they had been collected five years earlier while still in their eggs.
“By our best estimates and in consultation with experts in this species, the program will increase their chances of survival in the wild to about 30 percent, significantly up from the 1 percent chance that they would have had without this conservation project,” Smith remarked.
“The return of these 27 endangered turtles back to their birthplace at Wau Creek was an emotional event for Mr. Frank John and family as well as for EMPNG. The strong partnership we have established has led to an important contribution to protecting the pig-nosed turtle,” said Julia Hagoria, EMPNG’s Biodiversity Advisor.
“This project highlights what PNG can achieve to conserve its unique biodiversity when communities, scientists, government and industry collaborate and partnerships come together.”
Port Moresby Nature Park's CEO, Michelle McGeorge, noted: “Our special thanks go to all project partners and individuals involved, including PNG LNG Project who, through its ongoing funding support and commitment to bringing numerous partners together, enabled this conservation program to help save one of the most unique turtles in the world.”