Hawksbill sea turtle hatchling in the Arnavon Islands. Local communities here are working to protect hawksbill sea turtles. © Tim Calver

Stories in the Pacific Islands

Communities Supporting Sea Turtles

Local communities in the Arnavon Islands are the hawksbill’s biggest champions.

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Located in the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific Ocean, the Arnavon Islands are so tiny that some maps omit them entirely. But these islands are home to the region's largest rookery for hawksbill turtles.

Each year, hawksbill turtles dig around 2,000 nests within the 40,000-acre Arnavon Community Marine Park—the first nationally protected area in the Solomon Islands. Each female will lay between four and six nests in a nesting season, but it may be up to seven years before she returns to nest again.

The Nature Conservancy began working in the Arnavons in 1992 to bring together the three communities of Katupika, Kia and Wagina that had utilized the Arnavons for many years but disputed the ownership of these islands. When the government attempted to step in and ban the harvest of turtles from the Arnavons in the early 1980s, they did so without consulting resource users, and the traditional owners of the Arnavons bristled. Early attempts at conservation failed, but a decade later locals reached out to TNC and asked for help to broker a truce.

In 1995, after three years of facilitating discussions between communities and government, the Arnavon Community Marine Park (formerly Arnavons Community Marine Conservation Area) was established. Monitored and patrolled by community rangers to deter poachers, the park unites people from different ethnic backgrounds and provides new opportunities for local people, such as employment as park rangers and revenue from ecotourism.

In a new chapter of Arnavons' history, a women's group, known as KAWAKI, has been endorsed to participate in important decisions and management of the Arnavons. This group brings together women from the three communities and works to improve education about natural resource management, as well as improve access to Arnavons for both local people and children.

Since the establishment of the Arnavon Community Marine Park, the number of Hawksbill sea turtle nests that are laid annually has doubled.

Together, we can secure a brighter future for this remarkable species.