Conserving Turtles and Promoting Community Benefits

A side event held at the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) meeting in Apia today reported on the outcomes and lessons of a five-year project funded by the New Zealand government to encourage the conservation of marine turtles through community-based monitoring and eco-cultural tourism development in Pacific island countries.

The 2012-2017 project was funded by the NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It was jointly implemented by the NZ Department of Conservation (DOC) and SPREP in partnership with government agencies and Non-governmental Organisations in Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Kiribati and Tonga.

The successful completion and outcomes of the project with key partners helped SPREP to deliver its strategic objectives for the region, in particular those of the marine turtle action plan 2013-2017, and will inform the development of the turtle action plan 2018-2022.

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Ms Annie Wheeler, New Zealand Department of Conservation. Photo: SPREP

Community-based monitoring and management of turtles has been a successful approach in the region for over a decade. This project extended the number of village communities in Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Kiribati who are actively protecting and monitoring turtles on local nesting beaches. The project also aimed to generate economic benefits for communities through turtle-based eco-cultural tourism development, and to show how this can be an incentive for protecting turtles.

Ms. Annie Wheeler from DOC said "The project has been very successful in building community capability and capacity in both turtle conservation and ecotourism developments. Over 26 education, training and participatory business planning workshops were provided."

Ecotourism feasibility studies and business plans were developed for two island sites in Fiji - Moturiki and Yanuca - and sites at Marau, Solomon Islands as outcomes of the workshops.

"We concluded that eco-cultural tourism development has real potential to support turtle conservation efforts and community development aspirations. But it's not always a simple solution, and we have learned some valuable lessons from this project," said Mr. Mike Donoghue, Threatened and Migratory Species Adviser of SPREP.

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Mr Michael Donoghue,  SPREP Threatened and Migratory Species Adviser presenting at the side event. Photo: SPREP

Turtle populations in the Pacific face a number of serious threats throughout the region and improving the breeding success was a vital factor in ensuring the sustainability of turtle populations for future generations of Pacific islanders.

"This project has provided a real impetus for both conservation and community benefit. SPREP will be looking for partners to extend this programme and to further develop sustainable ecocultural tourism for the mutual benefit of both turtles and communities," said Mr. Donoghue.

Some of the key take home messages are:
• Community-based approaches bring maximum and long term benefits to communities but take time to implement
• Involve all parties - culture, environment, tourism, agency, NGO, community - at the scoping and project design stage, including site selection
• Project leadership at regional, national and community levels is critical
• Ensure community benefits are shared equally

For more information, please contact Mr. Mike Donoghue at michaeld@sprep.org or Ms. Juney Ward at juneyw@sprep.org.

Presenters: Mr. Michael Donoghue – Threatened and Migratory Species Adviser at SPREP, Ms. Annie Wheeler – Department of Conservation, New Zealand
Partners: SPREP, Department of Conservation, Governments of Fiji, Solomon Islands, Kiribati and Tonga
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