About OUR Turtles
The main 2 species found at the Conflict Islands are green and hawksbill turtles, they are listed as endangered and critically endangered respectively (IUCN Red List 2014). These turtles come up onto the beaches of the Conflict Islands to lay their eggs from November to January.
Sea turtles inhabit a range of ecosystems from terrestrial nesting grounds to developmental and foraging habitats in both coastal and oceanic water. Green and hawksbill turtles follow the same oceanic-neritic developmental pattern. Early development occurs offshore until the turtle reaches a size of 35-40cm. Later development then occurs on the continental shelf. The turtles reach maturity when they are about 40 years old, at this age the females will migrate back to the same beach where they were born to lay their eggs.
Sea turtles lay eggs roughly every 2 weeks during the nesting season (Nov-Jan). The turtles will usually mate in October, and can be quite aggressive during this time. The females will mate with several different males and can then store the sperm for several months. This means that every clutch of eggs she lays, will be fertilised by a variety of males. It takes the females 2 weeks to brew up a new clutch of eggs. Green turtles will lay between 80-140 eggs in each nest, while hawksbill turtles will lay 80-120 in each nest. The eggs incubate in the sand for about 2 months.
In Papua New Guinea, including the Conflict Islands, the hunting of marine turtles and the collection of their eggs is very common. An increased population, western influence and the introduction of new technology has resulted in an increase in the number of turtles hunted in Papua New Guinea. This has caused a rapid decline in sea turtle populations, and all species of sea turtles are classified as either endangered or critically endangered by the IUCN Red List.
The purpose of the Conflict Islands Turtle Hatchery is to relocate sea turtle eggs, from islands with high level of poaching, onto the safety of our main island (Panasesa). This project aims to decrease the number of sea turtle eggs being destroyed by poachers and to minimize the influence of predators, such as goannas and crabs. By doing this we hope that more sea turtles will be able to hatch safely and survive until adulthood.
The Conflict Islands Conservation Initiative, started the Turtle Nursery in January 2017, with the first baby turtles emerging from the hatchery on the 10th January 2017. When a sea turtle hatchling is born it only has a 1% chance of reaching adulthood, with the majority of sea turtles dying in the first few hours after hatching. Our nursery aims to increase the survival rate of endangered sea turtles born at the Conflict Islands, by raising the turtles up to a bigger size and releasing them offshore. This will decrease the number of predators able to eat the turtles and subsequently increase the percentage of turtles reaching maturity.
Turtles are released at varying ages, ranging from newborn to 1 year old. A release checklist is used to determine whether a turtle is ready for a release, this is based on the turtle’s health, swimming ability and eating habits. The location of release will vary with each turtle release to stop sharks and fish learning where they can get a free feed! Turtles released within the first few days will be released onto the sand and allowed to walk into the water. Older turtles will be released offshore into deeper water. Future research needs to be done to determine the optimum time and location to release a turtle at the Conflict Islands.
All of the turtles hatching from our turtle hatchery have their health checked and they are weighed, measured, photographed and given an ID number. The ID numbers are used to keep track of the turtles’ health, how much food they eat and their growth rate. The turtles are released at varying ages, from newborn to one year old.
Our turtles are fed on a gelatine based diet, made using our gourmet turtle feed recipe that has a perfect mix of protein, fat and vitamins for our baby turtles to grow healthy and strong.
When the turtles are being prepared for release, they will be fed a mix of fresh meat, live food and algae to mimic their natural diets equip them with the skills to hunt in the wild.
Daily nursery jobs include; feeding the turtles (they must eat 1/3 of their body weight daily), cleaning the turtles (ensuring no algae is growing), cleaning the tanks, checking the water temperature and preparing food for the next day.
Weekly nursery jobs include; weighing and measuring the turtles.