Reasearch and Monitoring
TDA rangers, marine monitors and conservation staff are undertaking a suite of research and monitoring programs to learn more about the unique wildllife and ecosystems of Tetepare, and to discover how best to manage and protect this very special island.
Our turtle program involves tagging nesting leatherback, green and hawksbill turtles as well as monitoring and protecting nesting beaches, nesting turtles, nests and hatchlings.
Tetepare is an important nesting ground for the critically endangered Western Pacific leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), which is on the brink of extinction. Numbers of leatherbacks in the Western Pacific Ocean have declined by more than 95 per cent since the 1980s due to excessive egg harvesting, hunting of nesting adult turtles, marine pollution, climate change and accidental deaths from commercial fisheries.
Tetepare has approximately 2km of beaches used for nesting by leatherback turtles and endangered green turtles (Chelonia mydas) . TDA rangers and turtle monitors monitor these beaches throughout the nesting season from September to April. They work in shifts, performing all-night foot patrols of nesting beaches, tagging nesting females, protecting and relocating nests, and collecting data on the numbers, sizes, clutch size and hatching success of leatherbacks and greens.
During nesting season, data are collected on any turtle that comes up to nest on the beaches, including green and hawksbill turtles. Nests are relocated to higher ground if they are below the high-tide mark and protected from predators with predator exclusion cages. Nests on Tetepare are particularly vulnerable to predation by monitor lizards.
Turtle nests are monitored throughout their incubation. The aim of our nest monitoring program is to protect turtles, increase hatchling numbers for this critically endangered species, and collect data for the management of Tetepare's turtle habitat.
Hatchling success has been growing each year since our turtle program began.
Green and hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricate) feed in the shallow lagoons of the Marine Protected Area. Rangers patrol the shallow lagoonal waters and ‘leap’ from the boat to capture them by hand. The turtle is then brought into the boat where it is measured and tagged. All the data is recorded and sent to SPREP (South Pacific Regional Environmental Program) to be included in their data base. Turtles are also counted once a fortnight by boat within the Marine Protected Area.
BANIATA LEATHERBACK INCENTIVE PROGRAM
We run an incentive program on the weathercoast of Rendova Island to encourage local villagers to protect leatherback turtles and nests on their beaches.
In the Solomon Islands, like many places in the world where leatherbacks nest, people routinely eat the eggs of leatherbacks and kill nesting mothers for their meat. On Rendova Island, near Tetepare, the villages of Baniata, Retavo and Havilla are home to key leatherback nesting beaches. We have developed a program to provide financial incentives for people from these villages to record sightings of nesting leatherbacks and to protect the nests, the hatchlings and the adult mothers.
Each person who finds a nesting leatherback or a nest, and reports their find to their village turtle monitor, receives a financial reward. If the nest they discover hatches successfully, they receive an additional financial reward. The TDA also donates money to a community fund for each nesting turtle and nest reported to the turtle monitor, and for each nest that hatches successfully. This program has proved very successful, and has resulted in far higher hatching numbers on these beaches.
This program is funding dependent and runs from September to April each year and is coordinated by TDA conservation staff.
The TDA rangers make regular patrols of Tetepare to monitor user activity on the island. They collect information directly from the local people fishing or hunting on the island, including the resources they have taken, the location where they were taken from and the frequency and purpose of the visits they make to Tetepare. The TDA rangers also use these encounters to discuss conservation and ensure that relevant harvest regulations are followed. Resource use data collection is the main information source used to guide TDA management decisions.
TDA’s marine monitoring crew participates in the Global Reef Check initiative by performing twice yearly surveys of Tetepare's surrounding reefs. Data are collected on the number and sizes of several fish species, the abundance of several invertebrate species and the health and coverage of coral. The aim of this monitoring activity is to gather data on the overall health of the coral reef ecosystems which surround Tetepare Island and to partner with global organizations with similar objectives.
The aim of the sea grass monitoring program is to gather data on the diversity, coverage and health of sea grasses which are indicator of the overall health of the lagoon ecosystems surrounding Tetepare Island. A crew of local women perform an annual survey of the species, types and coverage of sea grasses. The information they collect is sent to an Australian sea grass database (Seagrass Watch) and used to assess the health of marine ecosystems globally.
COCONUT CRAB MONITORING
The coconut crab is the world’s largest invertebrate and is in decline in most areas of the Pacific. It is harvested by locals for its meat which can also be sold for income. To ensure sustainable harvesting rates are implements, data on the number and size of crabs are collected by two means. First, regular dedicated surveys are undertaken using the ‘baited trail’ method at sites both inside and outside the protected area. Second, resource use data, including size, numbers collected and location harvested, are collected by rangers during regular patrols of Tetepare. Unfortunately, the data suggests that the coconut crab populations outside the MPA are reaching critically low levels. These data were presented to the TDA Executive Committee and then to the local communities during recent Community Awareness sessions, which resulted in the establishment of additional, seasonal protected areas
Trochus is a pearl inlaid shell sold to international buyers to make buttons. It is harvested from the reefs surrounding Tetepare Island. TDA’s marine monitoring crew perform bi-annual surveys of Tetepare’s reefs to count the number and size of trochus found. Any Beche-de-mer found are recorded as well. TDA have established numerous survey sites for this activity, half are inside the MPA and half are outside the MPA. The aim of this activity is to assess how the populations of Trochus and Beche-de-mer are reacting to harvest pressure. Size limits have been set for Trochus and are enforced by TDA rangers.
TDA staff, under the supervision of TDA patrons, conduct yearly bird banding sessions around Tetepare's field station. Data are collected on species, sex, and health and recapture rates and compiled in TDA's database. The aim of this program is to gather information on the diversity, abundance and habits of Tetepare's bird population and increase the staff's knowledge of scientific procedures. The longevity and site fidelity of Tetepare’s unique white-eye are studied in detail by colour-banding individuals in order to determine how this species has evolved separately from the neighbouring Rendova white-eye.
Local canoe trees are harvested by villagers and carved to make wooden canoes. The forest survey has been focusing on completing an inventory of available canoe trees and setting harvest limits for this species. Local communities now need to apply through a formal process to harvest them. Forest health is also being monitored in conjunction with Wetland International.
HELE BAR MONITORING
TDA has hired, trained and supports one ranger to collect data on the resources of the neighbouring islands of Hele Bar. The data that are collected specifically concentrates on marine turtle nesting and population numbers and nesting activities of the only known nesting colony of the endangered Nicobar Pigeon (Caloenas nicobarica) in the Western Province.
The aim of this program is to contribute to marine turtle and Nicobar pigeon conservation, gather resource and harvest use data on adjacent ecosystems to Tetepare and establish links between Hele Bar and Tetepare fauna.