First Sea Turtle Tagging In Solomon Islands Can Solve The Hawksbill Sea Turtle Migration Mystery

First Posted: Jun 08, 2016 06:00 AM EDT

The Nature Conservancy launched the first hawksbill sea turtle tagging program in Arnavons, which are islands that lie in the Solomon Islands. These are considered one of the Pacific's most significant biodiversity hotspots. The sea turtle tagging program will aid the Conservancy and community partners in protecting the turtles in their entire lifespans. It will also offer hope as the World Sea Turtle Day is celebrated on June 16 each year.

Richard Hamilton, Melanesia Program Director of the Nature Conservancy said that while turtle tagging has been done before, a comprehensive turtle tagging program has never been done in the Arnavons, which is the largest hawksbill sea turtle rookery in the South Pacific and a crucial breeding ground for this critically endangered species. He further explained that the data will be some of the first information on whether the current Arnavon boundaries are sufficient to protect nesting turtles, and where Arnavons turtles migrate to in between nesting years.

Also with the support from the Nature Conservancy, the Solomon Islands government and other communities had founded the Arnavon Community Marine Conservation Area (ACMCA) in 1995. This is the largest the first community-managed marine protected area in the country. There are approximately 400 to 600 hawksbills nest annually in Arnavon, as of 2012. They are migrating thousands of kilometers back to their natal beach.

The hawksbills nest only once every 7 years. This makes the total Arnavons' nesting population numbers between 2,000 and 4,000 turtles. Since the establishment of the ACMCA, the hawksbill sea turtle nests that are laid yearly in the Arnavons have been doubled.

Hawksbill sea turtle belongs to the family Cheloniidae. It is the critically endangered sea turtle. The populations of sea turtle have declined for about 80 percent in the past three turtle generations. This is because of illegal turtle shell trade, harvesting for meat, egg collection, habitat loss from beach development, bycatch in tuna fisheries and climate change.

Hamilton stated that turtles are at 10 percent of their numbers they were at a century ago, and roughly only one out of each 1,000 turtle eggs make it to adulthood. He added that this remarkable recovery in the Arnavons reveals that changes in policy, inclusive of community-based management and long-term commitment, can turn the tide for one of the most charismatic and endangered species on the planet.

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