Dunsborough resident helps save turtle research in Papua New Guinea

When Dunsborough vet nurse Casey Woodward started an animal welfare and conservation group she did not expect marine wildlife warriors Sea Shepherd to jump on board.

Ms Woodward setup Animal Assist to support animal welfare and conservation projects in the South East Pacific.

Animal Assist team member Jason Savage told her about a turtle research project in Papua New Guinea that had lost its funding due to the fallout from COVID-19.

The program protects critically endangered hawksbill and endangered green sea turtles from environmental strains such as climate change and rising sea levels, which were taking away the turtles' nesting habitats.

"Changing climatic conditions such as rougher seas and higher tides were washing nests away," she said.

"Islands where turtles have been going back to for years have started to disappear.

"Predators also eat the turtle eggs and while it is legal for Indigenous communities to catch a certain amount of turtles to consume for cultural purposes, some are taking over the legal quota.

"The program employs Indigenous rangers who understand the geography, they know when and where people come onto the islands, they patrol 24 hours a day.

"Rangers translocate clutches of eggs and move them to a safe hatchery, take data and release them back into the ocean at sunset.

"They also tag females and the data has shown that the turtles in PNG have travelled all the way from Harvey Bay in QLD to nest."

Since Animal Assist had only just been established they did not yet have the funds to help the program, so Ms Woodward contacted marine organisations to see if they could help.

"A friend of mine, Glenn Paice suggested contacting Sea Shepherd director of Australia Jeff Hansen, so I did, Jeff wrote back a few days later and wanted to hear more about the program," she said.

Ms Woodward was invited to pitch the idea to Sea Shepherd's global board which supported fully funding the turtle nesting project in PNG for the season.

"Sea Shepherd have been great, they do such amazing work. The fact they were open to supporting a small relatively unknown organisation to do this work is just incredible.," she said.

"The PNG program had no money to continue into 2020/21, so it was fantastic outcome.

"A report came through a few days ago and they had fantastic numbers from the last nesting season.

"Without that collaborative effort those turtles would not have survived.

"The region is recognised as a biodiversity hotspot, and Sea Shepherd saw the value in that."