It is believed that the harvest has now come to an end, but local leaders are still working on educating the villagers about the current law turtle killing.
National Member for Kiriwina-Good enough, Doulas Tomuriesa explained the reasons behind the slaughter to Bethany Keats.
Presenter: Bethany Keats
Speaker:Douglas Tomuriesa, National Member for Kiriwina-Goodenough
TOMURIESA: There's a time especially this year that people have harvested a lot of turtles for consumption, for commercial purposes also, consumption at the local markets, and this has become a very great worry, not only with the local leaders, but also a great worry to the international community will be excessive harvest of turtles for consumption.
KEATS: Do you know how many turtles have been killed this year?
TOMURIESA: I cannot actually put a figure to that but I can say that whilst I was on the ground and also it was witnessed by one of our expatriate visitors to the Trobriand islands, there was something like three to five being harvested a day, and that was really a great worry because when you look at three to five being harvested a day it is like 30 a week. And so it's really a great concern for us, and so after noticing this and talking to the local authorities, we have tried our best to put a stop to this. And I think in the last two weeks or so the harvest has really come down to either just one or two. But we are looking at putting a complete stop on that.
KEATS: What's the current law in Papua New Guinea about killing turtles?
TOMURIESA: There is a law in place under the Fisheries Act with the harvest of turtles and dugongs. However the law itself needs to be enacted, needs to be enforced, not only by the fisheries officers, but the law enforcement agencies.
KEATS: What about custom law, is there a custom law when it comes to killing turtles?
TOMURIESA: There is custom law and having spoken to his Honour the paramount chief of the Trobriand islands, after talking to him and the other chiefs of the islands, they said there is law with regards to killing of turtles and dugongs, and that is that especially turtles are not harvested on a daily basis or for commercial purposes. It is only when there is a feast or some major happenings at home and then people need to harvest turtles, then they go and get two or three, only for that occasion, but not on a daily basis for daily consumption or for commercial purposes.
KEATS: So why were the villagers taking up to five turtles a day for daily consumption?
TOMURIESA: The fishermen on the Trobriand islands have gone into commercial fishing and that is for the local markets, because the islands there are a lot of people that consume or take fish as protein, and because of the weather conditions on the islands for the last three to five, six months, the weather has been very, very rough, the fishermen cannot go out to catch fish in the open sea. So what they've done is go to the areas where turtles come to shelter and they harvested the turtles from there. And so every day they go out, catch the turtle, which is equal to how much fish they would catch for the day, and then get them to the local market and sell them there.
KEATS: How did you convince them to stop and are you convinced that the harvest has stopped for now?
TOMURIESA: The islanders themselves have taken this stand to stop fishermen going and harvesting the turtles there. They've done a fantastic job in that when the district administrator went and spoke to them two weeks ago, he has found out that the people there have stopped the harvest of turtles, and after talking to the local authorities, especially fisheries officials from Milne Bay province and on the Trobriand islands, we have now realised that the people have basically heard what we've told them. We have also mentioned to them that there is a law in place, that anybody who harvests turtles can be prosecuted. We were able to put a stop to it and the notice has gotten out and we have pasted notices earlier and in the villages where the fishermen come from, and people are beginning to adhere to this. And to be honest with you in the last two weeks we haven't seen any turtles being harvested.