That’s the fight that Penrhyn-based marine zoologist Dr Michael White has embarked on, as he seeks to push back against building on beaches, light pollution, noise, traffic and people wandering around at night.
Those are the reasons there are no turtles nesting on Rarotonga, he says – but there is still hope for the other islands.
It is still possible to find the odd, random nest on Rarotonga but no habitats of significance. There is nowhere for turtles on Rarotonga to come ashore undisturbed.
“It’s even more imperative to keep outer islands safe from development and habitat destruction.” White says the Tongareva atoll is the most important sea turtle habitat in the central South Pacific. It has year-round juvenile development, mating and nesting.
But Tongareva is also the island in the Cooks that is worst-affected by climate change impacts.
White says the biggest threat to turtles is fossil fuel driven climate change, affecting
the nest incubation temperature that determines the sex of developing embryos: “Around the world global warming means there are fewer places capable of producing male hatchlings.”
The other major threats are oceanic plastic, and turtles being taken as bycatch.
An Australian aid grant to Penrhyn will support the cost of freighting collected recyclables to Rarotonga for processing.