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  WWF website 4 Nov 05
Tri-national commitment in Pacific raises hope for leatherback conservation

Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea – At a recent Pacific Islands Forum meeting, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands committed to a tri-national partnership focused on conserving the critically endangered western Pacific leatherback turtle within the Bismarck-Solomon Seas Ecoregion.

The beaches of these three countries support the largest remaining leatherback turtle populations in the Pacific Ocean.

“We have a major responsibility to secure the future of this regional marine ambassador,” said William Duma, Papua New Guinea’s Minister of Environment and Conservation. The tri-national partnership recognizes the need to protect and manage the marine resources of the region across the geopolitical boundaries that divide it, providing an example of cross-boundary leadership and cooperation.

The partnership — with anticipated support and commitment of the international community — will also promote conservation through the systematic exchange of information and data on research, population, migratory routes, nesting sites and feeding areas of Western Pacific leatherback turtles.

Leatherbacks are found throughout the Bismarck-Solomon Seas Ecoregion, a biologically diverse area stretching 2.5 million sq km. from the Bird’s Head (Doberai) Peninsula of Papua, across the Admiralty and Bismarck archipelagos of Papua New Guinea, to Makira Island of the Solomon Islands.

The ecoregion is also home to approximately three million people of which 80 per cent rely on coastal resources for their livelihoods.

“Protecting the Bismarck and Solomon Seas seascape is globally significant for a number of ecosystems and species, ranging from coral reefs to migratory species such as tuna and whales,” said Jim Leape, WWF International’s Director General designate.

“The ecoregion is also a critical nesting site for the Western Pacific leatherback and has been identified as a global priority area for conservation and sustainable management by scientific, government and community experts.”

Leatherback turtles and their habitats are threatened by human activities, including egg poaching, habitat destruction, incidental mortality from fishing gears, pollution and poorly planned coastal development.

Critical to the success of the tri-national partnership is the commitment of local communities to conservation. Recognizing this commitment, representatives of community groups from Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands were presented at the Pacific Islands meeting with Community Leadership certificates by WWF.

“It is very important to acknowledge their leadership,” said Lisette Wilson, WWF’s Bismarck Solomon Seas coordinator. “As custodians of the sea, they have willingly set aside their customary areas for the conservation of the critically endangered leatherback turtle.”

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