Scientists and local communities are working together to protect endangered sea turtles and their nesting grounds in the Western Pacific Ocean.
The mystery of sea turtle migration
Hawksbill turtles swim across thousands of miles of ocean during their lifetimes. But little is known about where they go, complicating efforts to save them. The Nature Conservancy and local communities in the Solomon Islands are working to discover the secrets to their migration—and saving them from extinction.
It’s not easy to be a hawksbill sea turtle. Named for their pointed beak, these ancient animals have long been targeted by poachers for an amber-hued, intricate shell, coveted for luxury items from sunglasses to cigarette boxes. To make matters worse, hawksbills are hooked by fishing boats and entangled in nets. Frequently they eat and suffocate on plastic floating throughout the ocean.
It’s not hard to understand why these turtles are classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as Critically Endangered: If we don’t understand their migration, we can’t save them from extinction.
Beginning at peak nesting season in 2016, The Nature Conservancy worked with local communities to launch a unique program in the remote Arnavon Islands of the Western Pacific Ocean to track hawksbill migration patterns so that we can better protect the habitat where they nest, migrate, and feed. To do so, we’re using satellite tags on a small group of turtles to uncover the mystery of their travels.
Through this research, TNC found that most nesting turtles spend their entire nesting season within the Arnavons' protected boundaries, and the majority of these turtles return to the Great Barrier Reef to forage in highly protected waters, moving from one sanctuary to another. This highlights the need for an interconnected approach to establishing marine sanctuaries, which can also help to conserve shared resources.
This remarkable initiative to save nesting hawksbill turtles is a window into the future of conservation—one that combines community involvement and pride for local lands, waters and wildlife with broader conservation goals, scientific research and emerging technologies. Together, we can secure a brighter future for this remarkable species.