In the North Coast villages of Madang, elders are educating children about the importance of protecting the endangered leatherback turtle.
Today, a new generation of kids are growing up with an awareness of the importance of co-existence with creatures, that come to nest where they play.
On a black sandy beach about a kilometer from Tokain village along Madang’s North Coast, members of the environment committee are inspecting a new nest. A few nights ago, a leatherback turtle laid about a hundred eggs here. The night before, rough seas, swept away the small bamboo grid placed on the nest to protect it.
The chairman of the environment committee, Jacob Wamber, has taken on the personal responsibility of caring for it. Like other members of the community, he’s worried that the eggs won’t hatch because of the rough weather.
“We used to eat the turtle,” he says. “People would wait on the beach and kill the leatherbacks as they came to nest.
Leatherback turtles, are among the giants of the sea. They grow up to two meters in length and can weigh as much as a small car. They are also among the earth’s oldest inhabitants living largely unchanged for more than 100 million years.
But human beings became dominant in earth’s history, we as a species contributed to the reduction of up to 90 percent of leatherback turtles.
Until about five years ago, the leatherback was a highly prized delicacy for the Jacob’s people. But growing awareness on the plight of the Leatherback, communities along the North coast of Madang made the decision to stop killing them and harvesting their eggs.
“When we we learnt that their numbers were in decline and we were contributing that. So we started protecting them,” Says Jacob.
Yat Paol is a member of a small organization that has taken on the responsibility of educating the young. For Yat, this is an important responsibility.
“We’re teaching the young that leatherbacks aren’t just on this planet to be our food. They are part of our biodiversity and they have their place and we have to respect that.”
Many of the younger kids have only heard stories and seen pictures of the Leatherback or “Didu” in the local language. Yat says it only shows how rare the leatherback has become. The people have been made aware that the leatherback has a story - a story about a long journey from its nesting site on the North Coast of Madang to Central America, Asia, Hawaii.
While the awareness of the science and need for conservation may not appeal the people here, the story about the leatherback is one that resonates with them. Like their own long rich history, they’re seeing a parallel in the story of the leatherback… one that is largely silent and untold.