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Indonesia to Protect Top Nesting Site for Critically Endangered Turtles

Washington, DC - The most important nesting site in the Pacific for the critically endangered leatherback marine turtle will be protected, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said today. A pledge to create a crucial marine protected area in the north coast of Papua to include this site was announced by the Government of Indonesia during the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

With only 10 important remaining nesting sites in the Pacific, leatherback turtles face catastrophic population declines. Slaughter of turtles and unsustainable collection of their eggs, habitat degradation, as well as accidental catch by longline hooks and drowning due to entanglement in fishing nets are the main threats to the species. According to WWF, the leatherback turtle population in the Pacific has dropped from 90,000 nesting females in the '80s to approximately 3,000 today. At least 25 percent of the remaining population in the Pacific comes ashore annually to lay their eggs on the Indonesian beach of Jamursba-Medi, making it clearly the top on the list for protection.

"We applaud the commitment of the Indonesian Government to strengthen protection for leatherback turtles and the Pacific marine environment more generally. However, we would like to see more tangible commitments to protect this vulnerable species beyond one nesting beach," said Tom Dillon, director of WWF's Species Conservation Program. "Altering harmful fishing practices is a huge regional challenge."

WWF stresses that, with this commitment and other protection measures recently adopted, the Indonesian government has recognized the need to protect and restore the sea turtle populations in the country's waters. The Indonesian government has also called on fishing nations and the fishing industry to find solutions to reduce the accidental catch of turtles by hooks or nets.

According to WWF, improvements in fishing gear and techniques can dramatically reduce the number of turtles that die in nets and on hooks. For example, proven technologies such as turtle excluder devices (TEDs) in trawl nets, can significantly reduce the accidental catch of turtles and their deaths by drowning in nets in many parts of the world. Also, exciting recent research in the north Atlantic indicates that changes in hooks and baits can significantly reduce the number of turtles killed by longline fishing each year.

"This new research is already boosting efforts by conservationists, fishermen, and government leaders to help coastal communities fish smarter," said Kim Davis, deputy director of the WWF-US Marine Conservation Program. "WWF is taking new technologies to the field to improve use of longline fishing gear and techniques, country by country, to reverse the decline of the most vulnerable marine turtles along their migratory routes. Both improved fishing practices and nesting beach protection -- of the sort that Indonesia just announced -- are critical to the future of marine turtles. We commend Indonesia in this positive step forward to protect a marine environment critical to both animals and humans."