Turtle Preservation: The Giant Leatherback

Several communities in Madang have taken a local approach to solving a global environmental concern.

In Tokain, Karkum and surrounding   North Coast villages, elders are educating children about the importance of protecting the endangered leatherback turtle.


Today, a new generation of kids are growing up with an awareness of the importance of co-existence with creatures that come to nest where they play.


On the black sandy beach about a kilometre from Tokain village along Madang’s north coast, members of the environmental committee are expecting a new nest.


A few nights ago, a leatherback turtle laid about a hundred eggs here. The night before, rough seas swept away a small bamboo that was placed on the nest to protect it.


The chairman of the environmental committee Jacob Wamber has taken on the personal responsibility of caring for them.


Like other members of the community, he is worried that the eggs won’t hatch because of the rough weather.


Leather back turtles are among the giants of the sea. They can grow up to two metres in length, and can weigh as much as a small car.


They are also among the earth’s oldest inhabitants, living largely unchanged for more than 100 million years, but when human beings became dominant in earth’s history, we as a species contributed to the reduction of up to 90% of leatherback turtle.


Until 5 years ago, the leatherback was a highly priced delicacy for Jacobs’s people, but with growing awareness on the plight of the leather back, communities along the north coast of Madang, made the decision to stop killing them and to stop harvesting their eggs.


Yat Paol is a member of a small organisation that has taken on the responsibility of educating the young.


For Yat, this is an important responsibility.


Many of the younger kids have only heard stories and seen pictures of the leatherback. Yat says it only shows how rare the leatherback has become.


The people have been made aware that the leatherback has its own story; a story of about a long journey from its nesting site on the North Coast of Madang to Central America, Asia and Hawaii.


But what’s amazing about the leatherback, is that it always comes back to where its life began to lay new eggs.


While the awareness of the signs and the need for conservation may not appeal to people here, the story of the leatherback is one that resonates with them. Like their own long rich history there seems to be similarities in the story of the leatherback; one that is largely silent, and largely untold.

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