Australian Woman On Mission To Save Endangered Turtles In PNG

'Ideally we want to educate the local people about how unsustainable it is to continue to collect turtle eggs, as well as eat turtle meat'

By Courtney Fowler

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, September 1, 2016) – Turtle numbers are declining drastically in Papua New Guinea, under threat from locals who eat turtle eggs, commercial fishing activities, and rubbish polluting the ocean.

This has prompted an Australian woman living on Lissenung Island to establish a conservation program with her husband that has rescued more than 6,080 eggs from 47 nests across neighbouring islands in PNG.

With no scientific background, but a passion for turtle conservation, Ange Amon flew to Darwin to learn more from researchers who gathered for the Australian Turtle Symposium last week.

"I'm not a scientist, I'm just a resort owner and diving instructor who loves turtles," Ms Amon said.

"We've established the Lissenung Island Turtle Conservation Program, where we go from our island to neighbouring islands where we know there's a lot of turtle nesting happening.

"We collect the eggs there, we try and beat the locals to them, and transport them really carefully to our island to re-nest them."

Working together to make a difference

With a 90 per cent hatchling success rate, Ms Amon said the Lissenung Island Turtle Conservation Program, now in its third season, was slowly working to educate Papua New Guineans on the benefits of turtle conservation.

"Ideally we want to educate the local people about how unsustainable it is to continue to collect turtle eggs, as well as eat turtle meat," she said.

"One of the guys has been working for us for the last 20 years and comes and helps sometimes to dig them up, so we have that support.

"We get the local school kids to come over when we release the hatchlings, to try and re-educate them and show them what comes out if they don't take the eggs.

"What we have also done is sign a memorandum of understanding with some of the local resource owners that has definitely seen a big increase in fish populations."

Expanding the program in PNG

Ms Amon said she hoped her trip to Darwin for the Australian Turtle Symposium would give her more ideas on how she could work with traditional owners to expand the program.

"I'm really keen to get a GPS satellite tracker, so we can find out where our nesting turtles actually go to forage," she said.

"Ideally I would like to get a little program working, whereby we might get some money from Australia that helps us identify a couple of local people, and train them up to go into the communities to do the educating part.

"If we can facilitate that program and then get the locals more involved and to take ownership of that program, that would be fantastic."

From dive master to turtle rescuer

The Cairns-born conservationist said her life on Lissenung Island Resort rescuing turtles was a far cry from what she had imagined working as a dive travel agent 11 years ago, when Ms Amon met her husband in PNG.

But she said she would not have it any other way.

"It's actually a little bit of a dream come true really, especially with the addition of the turtle conservation," Ms Amon said.

"We help a lot with medical aid as well. We run an unofficial aid post for the locals where they can come for malaria tests, get malaria medication, and I've learned how to suture.

"We have a very good relationship with them [the traditional resource owners]. We are kind of one big family."

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