A program led by the University of Canberra and the Institute for Biological Research at the University of Papua New Guinea is working to conserve the habitat of an endangered pig-nosed turtle species, known locally as Piku.
ExxonMobil PNG Limited, operator of the PNG LNG Project, has committed K2.5 million over five years (from 2011-2015) to support the Piku Project. Piku is only found in southern New Guinea, including the Kikori Delta and Gulf region of PNG, and the Northern Territory of Australia.
The meat and eggs of the turtle have long been a key source of food for people living in the Kikori delta, but increased harvesting has led to decline in species population.
ExxonMobil PNG Limited Managing Director Peter Graham said ExxonMobil is committed to protecting the country’s unique environment for future generations.
“We invest in programs like this because it supports and encourages environmental protection,” said Graham.
“The Piku Project is a good example of how community-led conservation initiatives can lead to real results,” he added.
Program funding has supported a range of activities including community outreach efforts to raise awareness about the turtle, along with monitoring to help understand how the turtle lives and the threats it faces. The program also has a capacity-building component to increase technical expertise in conservation science Papua New Guinea, which includes a master’s degree scholarship for a student from Divine Word University.
University of Canberra Professor Arthur Georges said that the program is about more than protecting an important turtle species.
“It is about building community awareness of the need for environmental sustainability more generally, and protecting the turtle’s habitat for future generations. The pig-nosed turtle is a species of value to local communities and a project like this builds a broader commitment behind conservation.”
In conjunction with the project, a children’s book entitled The Adventures of Piggy on the Kikori has been distributed to over 10,000 school children in the country. A second book, Monty and the Lake Kutubu Invasion, has been published and will be distributed to children throughout the Kikori drainage area over the coming months.
Earlier this year the Piku Project team also established an exhibit at the Port Moresby Nature Park, and are selling the books there. This exhibit is a showcase for the rare turtle as well as a protected breeding ground that provides hatching turtles a head-start on life. The hatchlings are then released into their natural habitat once they are large enough to defend themselves against common predators.