Leatherback hatchlings

Several  communities in one coastal province of Papua New Guinea have taken a local approach to  solving  a global  environmental concern.

In the North Coast villages of  Madang, 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 a black sandy  beach  about a kilometer from Tokain village along Madang’s North Coast,    members of the  environment committee  are inspecting  a new  nest.  A few nights  ago, a leatherback turtle  laid  about a hundred eggs here.  The night before, rough seas, swept away the  small bamboo grid placed  on the nest  to protect  it.
The chairman of the environment  committee, Jacob Wamber,  has taken  on the personal responsibility  of caring for it.  Like other members of the community, he’s worried that the eggs won’t hatch because of the rough weather. 
“We used to eat the turtle,” he says. “People would wait on the beach   and kill the leatherbacks as they came to nest.
Leatherback turtles,   are among  the giants of the sea. They grow up to  two meters 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  human beings  became  dominant   in earth’s history,   we as a species contributed to  the  reduction of up to 90 percent of   leatherback turtles.
Until about  five years ago,   the leatherback was a  highly prized delicacy  for the Jacob’s people.   But   growing awareness  on the plight of the Leatherback,  communities along the North coast of Madang made the decision to stop killing  them and harvesting their eggs.
“When we  we learnt that  their numbers were in decline and we were contributing that. So we started protecting them,” Says Jacob.
Yat Paol is  a member of a small organization that has taken on the responsibility of educating  the young.  For Yat, this is an important responsibility.
“We’re teaching the young that leatherbacks  aren’t just on this planet to be our food.  They are part of our biodiversity and they have their place and we have to respect that.”
Many of  the younger kids  have only heard stories and seen pictures of the Leatherback or “Didu”  in the local language.  Yat says  it only shows how rare the leatherback has become.    The people have been made aware  that the leatherback has a story   – a story about a long journey  from its nesting site  on the North Coast of  Madang  to Central America, Asia, Hawaii. 
While the  awareness of the science and need for conservation may not appeal the people here, the story about the leatherback  is one that resonates with them.   Like their own long rich  history,  they’re seeing a parallel  in the story of the leatherback… one that is largely  silent and untold.


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