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A need to align and integrate incentive strategies. Lessons learned from turtle protection in eastern Indonesia (Creusa Hitipeuw and Lida Pet-Soede)

Creusa Hitipeuw and Lida Pet-Soede
WWF Indonesia
Jl. Mega Kuningan lot 8.9/A9
Kawasan Mega Kuningan
Jakarta 12950, Indonesia


Reviews of the status of the sea turtle populations in the Indo Pacific region (Limpus, 1994; 1997) reveal a declining trend since decades that is most likely due to unregulated human activities. The deterioration of key habitats that are important during different life stages of turtle populations and activities related to targeted and non-targeted catch put the survival of all seven globally known species of sea turtles at great risk. Fuelled by growing concern around the globe many conservation activities have been set in motion. Strengthened by well-directed research, various locally applied conservation strategies at least attempt to enhance the nesting and hatching success of turtles and thus give some hope for the future. However, to truly turn the tide and allow for restoration of seriously reduced populations (such as Pacific Leatherback and Loggerhead turtles) in time, a more integrated and global strategy needs to be considered.

This paper aims to provide some examples of how local conservation efforts in Indonesia, directed at one particular turtle population (Western Pacific Leatherback turtle), need to be linked with policy development, advocacy, management and community empowerment at larger geographical, ecological and administrative scales in order to increase the durability and efficiacy of such local initiatives.


The long life history, the wide range migration behaviour and the various values to mankind make sea turtles vulnerable to many forms of mortality. Deterioration of critical habitats, indiscriminate collection of eggs and capture of adults for consumption or other use and bycatch of turtles in fishing gear along migratory routes and at foraging areas, all contribute to the problem. Multiple threats require multi-dimensional approaches and strategies.

All stocks of leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriacea) and loggerheads (Caretta caretta) are showing a drastic decline in the Pacific Ocean basin (Limpus and Limpus, 2003; Kamezaki et al., 2003; Sarti et al., 1996; Spotila et al., 1996). For Pacific leatherback turtles in particular, there has been an alarming decline at known nesting sites across the Pacific (Spotila et al., 1996) such as in Malaysia (Chan and Liew, 1996), and more recently eastern Pacific populations have collapsed (Sarti et al., 1996).

The use of advanced research techniques that include the use of genetic and telemetry tools have improved our understanding that a larger management unit is required than the nesting beach alone and has led to calls for international cooperation in conservation management (Dutton et al., 1999). Using the same tools, some conclusions and facts revealed the major impact of high seas fisheries on several sea turtle populations in the Pacific, such as the leatherback turtle (Dutton, Balazs and Dizon, 1997).

Given the drastic decline of the Pacific leatherback, all possible measures including reduction/elimination of traditional uses that might be relatively small compared to other threats, must be put into action. Under given population status, traditional take will consequently exceed the levels that sea turtle populations can sustain and therefore recovery is jeopardized.

Sea turtles have since long formed a central element in the customs and beliefs of many peoples in the Pacific region; however, such beliefs manifest themselves in many different ways. Some prohibit direct consumption of particular species (totem, sacred animal, e.g. West Papua for leatherbacks; WWF unpublished 1993-1999), while others consider turtles as traditional (consecrated) diet given to them by their ancestors (Kei islanders). Elsewhere turtles are considered as a “chiefly food” reserved for special occasions as weddings and funerals[9] while others are accustomed to periodic restrictions on use (e.g. most Pacific islanders). Aside from being consumed for different reasons, turtles provide other cultural values that continue to tie many indigenous people together in a rapidly changing world.

To facilitate acceptance and implementation of actions that restrict traditional use, we could apply lessons from cases in Malaysia and Costa Rica where revenue and jobs were created from non-extractive uses of sea turtles. Developing turtle-related tourism is often mentioned in relation to conservation and it has indeed proven to generate greater revenue compared to extractive uses such as for shells, meat, eggs, and other products (Troeng and Drews, 2004). Unfortunately, the remote character of many turtle habitats makes the tourism option not always eligible.

This paper summarizes the most relevant impacts of local communities on turtle populations common throughout the Asia Pacific (Liew, 2002; Limpus, 1994; 1997; Rupeni et al., 2002). It includes some examples that present other approaches used to stimulate community participation in conservation activities especially at sites critical to recovery of the highly endangered leatherback turtle. A brief evaluation of their impact is provided and placed in the larger context of leatherback turtle conservation. Some recommendations are given to expand and strengthen the scope of local work through effective policy schemes and strong law enforcement at the national and international level.

Understanding impacts of coastal community on turtle populations

Arguably the most significant impacts of coastal activities on turtle populations in developing countries derive from adult poaching, egg harvesting and conversion of critical habitats.

Adult poaching

Most sea turtle species inhabit coastal areas with sea-grass meadows and coral reefs where they interact with fishing activities and coastal community settlements. For a long time, turtles have provided an important source of protein for local villagers. In most cases, local fishers considered encountering turtles while fishing for their families’ daily meal as good fortune. Other village members developed an interest to consume turtle meat, and the introduction of sea turtle meat to a nearby town consumers created a commercial value of sea turtle species (mostly greens and hawksbill). Soon considered a delicacy, restricted supply from its seasonal appearance resulted in high market demands (WWF Indonesia, 2002). Green turtles are used to serve religious needs and feasts which further induced massive turtle consumption into the life styles of a large majority in traditional communities. To meet this market demand under conditions of a continuously increasing human population, more and more people engaged in this trade and focused on roaming nesting habitats for easy capture. High market demands created exclusive business opportunities and jobs for a number of people in a wide range of occupations such as boat crew and vendors. This shift from subsistence use to a cash trade well-targeted fishery combined with the predictability of timing and location of turtle abundance has exposed most nesting populations such as in eastern Indonesia to levels of commercial exploitation that cannot be sustained (Hitipeuw, 2002).

Similarly, a developing commercial value of hawksbill turtles (particularly so as stuffed figures or for their shells in jewellry) significantly contributed to a decline of hawksbill populations. Large volumes of past exports to Japan and other Asian countries and existing domestic markets reduced the chance of population recovery, even with restriction of local consumption. This market indeed provided an alternative livelihood option for poor rural communities. Additionally, a lack of direct market access of remote coastal communities induced establishment of access/use agreements with outside poachers in return for direct payments in term of cash or household necessities (Hitipeuw, 2002).

Egg harvesting

While turtle meat is always regarded a tasty delicacy by everyone, eggs of all turtle species are edible and have become alternate protein source especially for communities living near nesting sites. Local consumption is usually relatively small and possibly even sustainable. However, the introduction of this alternative protein source at local markets induced the commercialism of turtle eggs. For Malays communities in Malaysia and Indonesia (Kalimantan especially), turtle eggs are worth more than chicken or duck eggs due to perceived remedial values. Collection of turtle eggs started to provide business opportunities and, for example, in eastern Kalimantan the legal concession rights and collection fees granted by local authorities to individual businesses have contributed significantly to regional revenues in the past. The concessions have been revoked; however, low enforcement capacity has allowed the development of a black market for turtle eggs for local consumption[10].

In other areas, local communities granted exclusive rights to outsiders to collect turtle eggs at nearby beaches during the nesting season. In Papua, such harvest rights were traded for household necessities such as sugar, rice, salt, soap, cigarettes and cooking utensils. During the peak periods of commercial collection which coincided with peak nesting seasons, all nesting activities sighted were subject to harvesting as there has been no limits associated with the rights (Salm, Petocz and Soehartono, 1982; Sumantri and Djuharsa, 1985; Petocz, 1987; Stark, 1993; Hitipeuw and Maturbongs, 2002).

Competitive use of turtle habitats (habitat conversion)

Turtle nesting beaches are often located on uninhabited islands, which are sometimes considered sacred to nearby communities. One of the many examples is a green turtle rookery on the island of Enu-Karang (declared a Marine Nature Reserve), in the middle of the Arafura Sea that is respected by Arunese as the land of their origins (Schultz, 1987; 1996). However, while these areas are mostly inaccessible and under land-tenure systems of the particular indigenous communities, some nesting beaches especially when located on the larger islands (such as those used by leatherback turtles) are subject to coastal development that includes human settlement (WWF-KSDA, 1994; WWF-Sorong, 1999) and coastal tourism. Furthermore, for example in Papua the beaches are used by timber companies to access lumber camps and vice versa, to take lumber out of the area via sea transport (WWF, 2000; 2001a; 2001b; 2001c). These activities have direct impacts on nesting turtles. Logs washed up on the beach present a barrier to both adult turtles attempting to nest, and to hatchlings seeking the ocean. Logging in the hinterland threatens the beach structure due to removal of vegetation and changes in natural drainage patterns. Additionally, increased human activity associated with the logging may lead to an increase in poaching.

Fishing activities adjacent to nesting areas

The tendency to congregate during nesting seasons at major nesting sites most likely makes sea turtles especially susceptible to fishery operations in the same areas. Only little information is available on the degree of mortality due to incidental take by coastal fishing gears. Arauz (2003) evaluated the impact of coastal artisanal fisheries near important nesting beaches in the Central America Region. Inshore, small-scale gillnets and longlines in tropical regions create obstacles for sea turtles trying to reach the beach. Collectively, unattended nets set in shallow waters and fisheries other than shrimping in coastal waters were identified as the second largest source of mortality to sea turtles (National Research Council, 1990), and the issue has since received considerable attention (Luctavage et al., 1997).

The coastal waters off the north coast of Papua, where a large nesting site of Pacific leatherback occurs, are important sites for coastal pelagic fisheries in the region. Based on the licensing records issued by local fisheries authority a substantial increase of pelagic fishing activities (artisanal fisheries) increased during the last ten years and includes fishing gears such as tuna longlines, gillnets, trammel nets and some other traditional type of fisheries such as trap nets and lift nets from platforms with submerged lights (Bagan). Sea conditions dictate that most fishing activities occur during the eastern monsoon, when the sea surface is calm, and this happens to coincide with the peak-nesting season in Jamursba-Medi beach. There is no quantification of the fisheries induced mortality of turtles; however, communities living along the north coast and north islands of Papua have reported seeing stranded leatherback entangled in fishing nets and other marine debris (Hitipeuw and Maturbongs, 2002). Recent satellite tracking results showed back and forth movement of females to the nesting sites during breeding seasons. The occurrence of large aggregations of nesting leatherbacks, especially during the peak of the nesting season, and the presence of coastal fishing activities at the same time, suggested a potential interaction of turtles and fisheries.

Local protection of a “Globe-Trotter”: lessons learned from leatherback conservation in eastern Indonesia

On the basis of the various socio-cultural and socio-economic aspects of traditional and commercial use of turtles and their eggs, two locally defined strategies that allow sustainable conservation action of Pacific leatherbacks involving indigenous communities are being implemented (by WWF Indonesia). Considering that conditions vary much between two locations that provide important functions for the leatherback, two cases are presented that call for different cultural and economic approaches (Juliany and Schneider, 2002; WWF, 2001b; 2001c)

A Case Study I-Reducing mortality due to traditional hunting of leatherbacks at their foraging ground in Kei Kecil Islands, Moluccas Province, eastern Indonesia: Socio-Cultural Approach

Brief history - cultural/economic content. The leatherback turtle has large local cultural significance as it is the symbol of ancestors and the seven ridges on its shell reflect the number of local customary groups in Kei Islands. It provides sacred food for clan groups in seven villages and historically it is considered a domesticated animal (turtles turned around when they were asked so). A legend regarding the occurrence of leatherback and how the species served local needs of a ‘sacred’ diet resides at nine particular villages that are in possession of hunting rights. The fact that the legend relates to this sacred purpose of turtle meat since so long established the assumption that leatherback has resided in their surrounding waters since forever and that they will never go extinct. Importantly, the institutional implementation of customary beliefs and rules relating to hunting practices is clear to all communities involved including the strict prohibition of its commercial use.

The hunting frequencies vary among clan groups (village) and depend on frequencies of livelihood (income generating) activities such as the start of the crop planting season, fishing, seashells and sea cucumber collection, and on frequencies of social activities such as church-related events and on the climate (rainy season). More hunting occurs when the hunting area is better accessible. When people sight leatherback nearby they perceive this as the turtles offering themselves (sacrifice) to be caught. Catches by one or several groups of people must be equally shared amongst all village members, thus the more populated villages are the more turtles are hunted. The highest record of the hunting rates was over 100 adult males and females during the hunting period (Suárez and Starbird, 1996).

Approach taken. Considering the critical endangered status of Pacific leatherback due to various threats, the reduction of adult mortality (such as from direct hunting) may far outweigh the protection of eggs at the nesting beach in terms of contributions to the recovery effort. A well-structured outreach programme that builds on the cultural significance of the hunting practices “updates” the local understanding on the status of the turtle population and links this to their own customary laws explaining what the dire status of the turtle population means for continuation of their customs and beliefs. Dissemination of indigenous and modern-scientific knowledge for different target groups is a critical component in such a program. Strongly linked with this outreach, an intensive empowering process such as finding out other protein sources, development of hunting regulations, could be initiated that also builds on existing customary laws and institutional frameworks. As the customary law is highly respected locally, the adoption of sustainable harvest regulations into the framework of existing customary law should be an indicator of the project’s objective of conserving sea turtles.

Results to date. Since the cultural-related conservation issues are often sensitive to be addressed, a preliminary phase of the outreach programme is the hard part of the overall and often a time-consuming process. Since the leatherback are considered a sacred diet, historically provided by their ancestors, the people in these communities believe these turtle will not become extinct. The major challenge in achieving significant reduction in hunting at leatherback foraging grounds would be to change perception on the fate of the species. The result of consultation with local communities reflected a general concern of the people regarding sustainability of the traditional practice following their observations on the lower abundance of the turtles in the surrounding waters at present compared with the past 10-20 years. However, factors other than direct hunting such as sea traffic and pollution are also seen as causes for the observed declines. This suggests a need for education programmes on turtle ecology and threats to sea turtles and their habitats before taking further steps towards the promotion of sustainable hunting schemes within the existing customary institution.

Lessons learned. Supporting local people to maintain their socio-cultural links with their environment would be seen locally as an obvious benefit and has proved effective for some indigenous communities in the Pacific region such as aboriginals (Hunter and Williams, 1997; Jelinek, 1997), Solomon islanders (Leary and Orr, 1997) and Fijian people (Rupeni et al., 2002). Empowering indigenous communities to develop solutions for addressing the hunting is the key factor. Despite this being a time-consuming process for most of the examples mentioned, such management approach was deemed important.

Traditional hunting in Kei Islands is aimed at the leatherback turtles, most critically endangered turtle species in the Pacific and its extinction is feared if immediate intervention to reduce the mortality is not pursued. It is often that new initiatives such as conservation programmes are well accepted by most traditional communities when financial support (on a short-term basis) is included in the overall project framework. Further, the most common response such as “what’s in it for us if we are doing conservation” reflected economic benefits people expected from participating in conservation. Therefore, conservation programmes should be designed to encourage local participation in conservation actions with a main focus to sustain traditional lifestyles, using financial assistance to gain trust and accelerate the empowering processes. An innovative quick fix approach complementing a long-term, community empowering process should be preferred. Market factors that drive the degree of hunting, as mentioned in the previous section, provide a good baseline for the development of relevant economic-related activities.

Way forward. In order to achieve a significant reduction of hunting, it is obvious that quick (financial) intervention should be focused in the first place on the more densely populated villages or those with the community that holds the local mandate for customary-related decision making. A lack of means of transportation for direct access to the nearby town market, and a lack of skills to diversify as well as increase cash crop production influence local capacity to income-generating activities during the hunting season. Livelihood supports, such as assessing potential marketable crops, provide skills to increase the production and explore ways to resolve limited market access (e.g. generate outside support for provision of means of transportation). Such support can be considered as a trade-off for participation of indigenous community in conservation of globally important species. This would even fit with local beliefs and translated as a reward from ancestors to save leatherback (ancestor’s reward).

Case Study II. Protection of nesting habitat at Jamursba Medi, West Papua Province, eastern Indonesia: Socio-Economic Approach

Brief history - cultural/economic content. In terms of local administrative jurisdiction, Jamursba Medi beach is divided between two coastal villages. According to the beliefs of these communities, leatherback turtles are members of the human race that have adapted to live at sea. The occurrence of a rock that appears like a leatherback turtle is part of a legend that lives within the communities. Leatherback turtles provide eggs (as protein source) for people, so keeping the adults alive (no poaching) will ensure the continuation of egg harvesting for subsistence purposes. Slaughtering of leatherback turtles is considered taboo to the communities but there is no taboo against slaughtering other turtle species that also occur in the region. Unfortunately, before the conservation project was established, a commercial market for turtle eggs and meat existed in the district town outside the jurisdiction of the two villages and this stimulated outsiders (fishermen) to come and harvest the eggs and trade household items with the local people in exchange for access to the turtles.

Approach taken. Following an observation of a drastic decline of the nesting populations, WWF in partnership with a local government agency started conservation activities in the early 1990s with a field-based programme with the objective of eliminating egg poaching on the beach. Clans residing in two adjacent villages claim traditional ownership over the beach area, so the first step was to build a good relationship with these communities and have their support for turtle conservation work. Activities to date include community-based beach patrols and control of feral predation and have resulted in a significant reduction of human-induced threats, especially egg poaching and habitat disturbances (Stark, 1993; Hitipeuw and Maturbongs, 2002; WWF, 1993-1999).

Results to date. Over the course of the conservation activities, local communities have supported WWF’s efforts to conserve leatherback turtles and their nesting habitats in Papua. The recruitment of beach patrol personnel was based on the decision of the community, and the practices of harvesting and trading eggs with outsiders and local consumption have been abandoned in support of conservation aims. The setting aside of land around the beach for conservation would not have been possible without the complete agreement of the local communities, and the results of on-going beach patrols and monitoring have shown that conservation efforts have been successful in practically eliminating all poaching of adult turtles and collection of eggs.

Lessons learned. Key to the success of these efforts is that they build upon the customary connection between the community and the turtles while at the same time offering an alternative source of income be provided to those community members who conduct patrols. Although the conservation programme was able to link traditional beliefs regarding sea turtles with conservation and support, part of the project had to address sustainable development needs for the wider community as well, i.e. solutions that contributed to poverty reduction. Providing salaries for beach patrols partly addresses this need, but only for some community members and is not sustainable as it still depends on project funds. More often now, the communities request assistance for micro-enterprise development and other economic activities to replace income derived from activities that previously involved exploiting turtles. However, other forms of development involving natural resource exploitation, such as timber and mining, are increasing in the vicinity of the nesting beach, and will potentially offer more lucrative options to local villagers, encouraging them to engage in activities that may be in conflict with conservation aims unless (short-term) benefits generated from conservation activities are generated. The recent establishment of a log-pond facility adjacent to the turtle-nesting beach is an example of such an actual conflict between development and conservation goals.

Way forward. Current ideas on further strategies therefore include a more integrated approach to support some of the economic needs of the larger community and to address other economic developments that are ongoing in the area (Juliany and Schneider, 2002; WWF, 2001b)

Why our approaches were not fully effective: combining lessons from both cases

The projects at Kei and Jamursba Medi provide clear examples of areas that are of highest conservation priority because of levels of biodiversity or the presence of endangered species and that are also home to extremely impoverished communities. The challenge of biodiversity conservation is to ensure that conservation goals are compatible with sustainable development goals, that communities are included as part of the solution, by using approaches that are socio-politically acceptable, economically viable and ecologically sustainable. This is particularly true where land ownership is under traditional tenure regimes and where the remote character of the area means that interventions must be perceived to serve the economic and cultural interests of communities.

Strategies that add value to resources and reduce the negative impacts of their extactive use through community management, should provide clear reasons for the community to participate in conservation. When using community based approach to achieve conservation targets, the basic question is how to allow local people to contribute to and, at the same time, benefit from conservation. Local communities need to be empowered to manage their natural resources on a continuous basis. So-called “empowered management regimes” serve beneficial purposes such as giving recognition to communities and reinforcing self-determination, and the results include direct benefits to the action contributing to local livelihood systems include effective grass roots level management of the resource take (harvest) and isolation of illegal activities (Hunter and Williams, 1997).

In Jamursba Medi the purpose of the former protected area scheme initiative was the protection of the surrounding hinterland as a buffer zone for maintaining the integrity of the entire ecosystem and watershed. The project faced the rejection of the local communities due to failure in demonstrating the economic benefits derived from protected area designation. Second, establishing a nature reserve (e.g. wildlife sanctuary) faced challenges related to land tenure issues. In addition, people in the communities often perceived the reserve as depriving them of their traditional rights and of their opportunities to exploit resources for their own social and economic needs. However, insufficient capacities of management authority in managing and enforcing such a remote sanctuary suggested a need to involve local communities in management activities.

An integrated approach

Regulation or prohibition of sea turtle harvesting in remote undeveloped areas should be seen from the perspective of local food and income security. A number of reasons can be provided for people to give up turtle as part of their diet and to forego income opportunities from direct sales or trading of use rights. Short descriptions of cultural, economic and legal inducements are provided here as inputs to a broader discussion on how to ensure community support for effective conservation.

Cultural reasons for conserving sea turtles

The high cultural status of sea turtles has provided powerful motivation for sea turtle conservation action in the Pacific region. Restrictions on external trade as well as on non-traditional methods of capture (such as the use of outboard-powered boats for turtle hunting) have been implemented successfully in recent years (Adam, 2003). Translating the dire state of turtle populations into impacts on sustained implementation of customary and religious activities would provide a powerful incentive for participation and acceptance for conservation.

Economic inducements for conserving sea turtles

A management approach that involves carefully selected private sector investments and development can demonstrates that the nature reserve itself could provide the means to generate small businesses and employment opportunities to supplement or replace local livelihoods, such as community logging, ecotourism. Additionally, it can draw attention to the benefits of institutional strengthening as a way of enabling community-based approaches to be effectively implemented and sustained. This strategy is often pursued actively by NGOs to facilitate acceptance of new regulations and to minimize risks of low compliance.

On-the-ground management of nesting beaches often includes protecting nests from predation, relocating nests from vulnerable to less vulnerable areas of tidal submersion, and patrols against poaching. These activities require manpower and thus provide job opportunities for a small group of local communities - as for example in Jamursba Medi, Papua. The down-side of project-oriented conservation activities is that these jobs will disappear when the funds for a project dry up unless alternative funding can be secured. Thus, this approach is not sustainable.

Ecotourism is an option that could create both conservation outcome and provide for successful community development in the longer term. The creation of new jobs and the provision of environmentally friendly sources of income offer a means of promoting not only protection of turtles, but also the ecosystem as a whole. Particularly in areas where a variety of interesting features are present, ecotourism has a greater change of succeeding and can provide a larger number of job opportunities with different skills (guides, cooks, technical support staff, administrative staff) and can provide a more diverse range of financial benefits (from selling of souvenirs to fish, etc). It can also lead to the creation of different economic activities such as gardening, fishing or chicken farming. Ecotourism should, of course, not create additional pressure on the ecosystem and resources through immigration of more people into the area.

In Jamursba Medi, there are terrestrial species in the adjacent forest area including mammals such as tree kangaroos and cuscus; reptiles such as iguanas and snakes; and birds such as birds of paradise, cockatoos, parrots, and Kasuaris. These might provide benefits to local people by appealing to a global eco-tourism market as a protected, intact ecosystem that contains this unique variety of rare and unusual species.

Further, relatively unspoilt Jamursba Medi marine ecosystem provides an ideal place for marine biological research and the people are a living museum of the coastal community culture in Papua, especially for the culture of communities living along the coast of the Kepala Burung Cape. The communities’ cultural resonance with sea turtles offers an opportunity for integrating traditional lifestyle with sustainable development activities, and opens up opportunities for linking future conservation programmes with community-based natural resource management, eco-tourism enterprises and biological research.

Unfortunately for Jamursba Medi there are still many challenges to overcome when developing eco-tourism or large-scale research. The region is remote and inaccessible, especially during the monsoon season. Basic infrastructure is lacking, malaria is rife, and there are alternative sites in Indonesia, such as the Berau Islands and Komodo, that offer similar combinations of marine and terrestrial natural wonders which are closer to regional travel centers. Furthermore, private sector involvement can be very valuable for ensuring the commercial success of tourism enterprises, but it needs to be carefully guided and monitored to ensure that the conservation philosophy and practices upon which these schemes have been built are maintained and ensure a fair sharing of benefits to the communities involved.

Importantly, even when well-implemented, the above alternative or complemantary activities will not ensure that the quality of nesting habitats is maintained in full, especially if there are hinterland activities that impact on the nesting beaches. Again the Jamursba Medi case provides a good example of a situation where there is the likelihood of conflict with individual interests within the community (such as landowners) and where there are clear financial incentives for pursuing forest concessions. The presence of logging companies in the hinterland adjacent to the nesting beach could be minimized through establishment of a terrestrial protected area that includes some of the forest. However, customary and communal use rights of coastal beaches, adjacent land and water, and the resources in these areas, suggest the cash loss to the communities by foregoing extraction of forest resources or the right to trade timber concessions may need to be paid in the form of a direct compensation payment. An option here could be to establish long-term lease to gain control over land use activities in favour of sea turtles and their very critical habitats: a conservation concession. Money gained from such lease may be pooled into community trust fund (established institution) to ensure financial benefits to community members through for example credit schemes for livelihood development and to management costs of sea turtle conservation.

A conservation concession is an option to safeguard the nesting habitats and to allow for long-term recovery through appropriate management interventions. The specifics of the conservation concession may vary from one region to another depending on the economic opportunities the area provides and the needs of local communities. In the eastern Pacific, where the value of nesting habitats competed with coastal development such as tourism, land acquisition was the only proposed option to save the leatherback nesting habitats.

Legal support of sea turtle conservation efforts

While implementation of protected areas that are legally gazetted only works with support of local stakeholders, the actual gazettment reflects legal documents that follow national policy and remains, nevertheless, a critical step. Often it is impossible to achieve full consensus among all stakeholders, and it is necessary to enforce existing laws on intruders and those who do not abide by the law. Furthermore, even when local communities are convinced and supportive of the need for conservation actions, they face challenges when dealing with outsiders who do not respect conservation goals. A well-designed legal framework can strengthen the position of local communities against outsiders and then their enforcement can be supported from additional sources such as the navy and/or marine police. Local communities then have the incentive to act upon their commitments as they are ensured that others will also have to keep to the rules.


All of the above approaches require participation of multiple stakeholders. Community-based management and the more comprehensive collaborative management schemes for nesting beach conservation must be strengthened within the legal and institutional frameworks that govern the access and use of resources important to sea turtle habitat sites/areas. Preventing habitat loss can be achieved through: engaging in spatial planning; upgrading the protection status of remaining natural habitats; making land uses more compatible with conservation (stopping illegal habitat conversion); integrating local communities and companies in habitat conservation efforts; and encouraging companies to introduce so-called “best practices” in their operations.

It is clear that innovative approaches that can quickly demonstrate direct benefits for the wider community from conservation will encourage more people to engage in beach and poaching management activities. However, considering the many aspects of the problem, any approach to sea turtle conservation in local communities needs to integrate various mechanisms that, together, start to address the underlying multi-dimensional root causes of declines in sea turtle populations. Any such comprehensive strategy also needs to be embedded in a framework to accomplish change at local, national and international scales. It thus needs to build on four main elements of work: policy development and implementation; promoting change through campaigns that raise awareness on issues and solutions; community empowerment to allow and facilitate involvement in long-term management and, practical management at field level to create living examples of protection and restoration of the turtle populations.

Recommendations and action points

Policy development and implementation:

Important angle to awareness campaigns:

Priority components of community empowerment:

Practical management:


The authors like to thank the organizing committee for the invitation and opportunity to present WWF’s work with partners on conservation of leatherback turtles at this meeting. Furthermore, the authors thank the larger WWF network for support in preparation of the presentation.


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[9] To Balinese Hindus (Indonesia), the turtle is well regarded for its capacity to retreat into its shell and for carrying the world on its back. Here, turtles are sacrificed and the meat is consumed during special ceremonies.
[10] The eggs are now protected from collection and egg concession are no longer granted.

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