ON Thursday the 1st of April, four hatchlings (baby turtles) of Olive Ridleys were released by Daniel Besa, (Guadalcanal Provincial Government Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture), Willie Kokopu (Guadalcanal Provincial government senior Fisheries Officer), Samuel Siovi (Class Six Student of Veralingi Primary School) and Simon Vuto of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) near the coastal areas off Rere plantation beaches in East Guadalcanal.
There are seven species of marine sea turtles in the world.
They are leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriacea), Green turtle (Chelonia mydas),
Hawksbills (Eretmochelys imbricata), Loggerheads (Caretta caretta), Olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea), Kemps ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) and Flatback turtle (Natator depressus).
Out of these seven species, five are found in Solomon waters.
They are the leatherbacks, the green turtles, hawksbills, loggerheads and the olive ridleys.
However, out of these five; only the leatherbacks, green turtles and hawksbills have been known nesting in the beaches in Solomon Islands.
Not until the recent national turtle assessment in 2019 that confirmed for the first time that olive ridley also do nest in the Solomon Islands as well.
It nests in Makira near Kaonasughu and a very recent accidental finding shows that olive ridleys also nests in East Guadalcanal, near the Rere plantation areas.
This is the second confirmed nesting site for Olive Ridleys in Solomon Islands.
The accidental findings of the Olive Ridley hatchlings at the beaches near Rere plantation was made by Samuel Siovi, a class six student of Veralingi Primary School, East Guadalcanal in March 2020.
Samuel was returning home from school when he saw some baby turtles (hatchlings) were crawling out from their chamber in the sand.
This arouses his curiosity of which he further investigated and found out there are some more turtle eggs in the chamber that are in the process of hatching.
He took out his shirt and took home some baby turtles and about 40 eggs that are still to be hatched home.
He dug a hole in the sand next to his house and buried the eggs with the intention of keeping some as pets.
The next morning, he was surprised that many of the eggs have hatched and crawled out into the ocean.
Some of the remaining hatchlings were then kept in an abandoned broken water tank with sea water that he replaces every day and fed them with sliced meshed fishes.
It so happened that Daniel Besa (Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries) of Guadalcanal Provincial Government was returning to Honiara on that day from his ward tour that he saw some of children were playing with baby turtles on the beach in the village.
He was shown the other hatchlings of which he was offered some of the hatchlings to keep if he desires.
Besa took some of the hatchlings to Honiara and then informed The Nature Conservancy (TNC) office that he had some baby leatherback turtles at his residence if we would like to come and have a look.
On seeing the hatchlings, we could tell immediately that they are not leatherbacks.
They are not hawksbill or green either.
We then sent the photographs of the hatchlings to Dr Collin Limpus (the Indo-Pacific turtle expert) in Australia of which he identified the hatchlings as that of Olive Ridleys.
The news is an exciting one as it can now be further confirmed that Olive Ridleys do nest in the beaches in Solomon Islands as well.
They do nest in Waihaoru beach near Kaonasugu village, Makira and now in the Rere Plantation areas in East Guadalcanal.
Last Thursday a party from the Fisheries Division of Guadalcanal Province and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) were able to travel up to Rere areas and conduct awareness to schools and communities and together with Samuel Siovi and were happy to release the one year Olive Ridley hatchlings into the wild.
Hoping that one day some of them will return to nest on these shores again.
The threats that these amphibian reptile faces in their life processes is enormous.
First, human beings are their major threat.
This is both direct and indirect.
Humans hunt for turtles during nesting seasons by digging up their eggs and killing the mother turtles when they come to the beaches during nesting seasons.
Or they even shoot them with harpoons whenever they come up to the surface for breathing during their turtle hunting trips for special occasions in their communities.
Or indirectly, they destroy their habitats by destroying the nesting beaches of which they come up to nest in the name of developments.
The lives of the hatchlings were also threatened by other natural predators.
Statistically, the ratio of their survival is very low.
Out of every 1000 hatchlings that go out into the wild, only one will return to nest again at the nesting beach of its birth.
Climate Change is also one of the major threats as sex of the hatchlings of sea turtles are determined by sand temperatures.
The increased in sand temperature will result in the likelihood of more female hatchlings.
With these predicaments at hand in relation to the life cycle of sea turtles, it requires a concerted effort of every member of the community that includes churches, schools and tribal groupings to ensure the continuity of the survival of these sea creatures into the future.
Otherwise, the future generations will just see them as pictures in books and magazines.
Samuel Siovi, a class six turtle rescuer is to be applauded for rescuing a rare species of sea turtle at the Rere beaches in East Guadalcanal, giving them a chance for survival.
Thank you, Samuel!
WILLIE ATU & SIMON VUTO
The Nature Conservancy Office