Exotic Residents of the Ramu Delta

Posted on 29 May 2014    
Northern New Guinea softshell turtle (Pelochelys signifera)
© WWF Pacific
AN unexpected find turned up out of the blue (or brown) in the muddy waters of the remote Ramu River Estuary on the north coast of Papua New Guinea.

During a scoping trip looking at potential sites for mangrove rehabilitation in the Ramu delta a small boy from a tiny settlement near Marangis at the mouth of the estuary ran up with a net containing what looked like a muddy plate.

It turned out to be a young Northern New Guinea softshell turtle (Pelochelys signifera) which locals say are plentiful in the Ramu Delta and are regularly scooped out of the muddy waters.

The young turtle, almost certainly destined for the pot, is part of Pelochhelys cantorii group but was described as a new species known only to northern New Guinea, the drainages of the Sepik and Ramu (Madang’s biggest river) and then west into Irian Jaya, Indonesia (Webb 2002).

The photograph taken for WWF-Pacific is one of only two known available of the newly described species and was identified by Professor Arthur Georges of Canberra University who, quite coincidentally, was in Madang at the WWF-PNG country offices for a seminar at Divine Word University.

The successful three day scoping trip was aimed at contributing detail to a submission being made to PNG’s Office of Climate Change and Development (OCCD) as part of their $6.5m ‘Enhancing the Adaptive Capacity of Communities to Climate Change Related Floods in the North Coast and Islands Region of PNG’ (Adaptation Fund, UNDP).

The north coast of Papua New Guinea is not known for its mangroves because the rivers, often streaming down from the mountains are fast flowing and unprotected by reefs. However the delta around Kyang and Boroi proved to have huge areas of healthy mangrove forest often fronted by dense blocks of Nipa Palm (described as Nypa fracticans), so much so that WWF-Pacific’s PNG driver, John Mizeu, spent most of his time: ‘Looking for something that was not mangro’.

Further down the north coast, the PNG team also came across a community who have set up their own mangrove nursery simply inspired by a WWF visit talking about climate change and sea level rise seven years ago in 2007! Credit must go to Alfred Masul of Numuru near Malala Bay, who has not only set up his own nursery without any outside help, but is continuing to restrict fishing as a protective measure in half of his clan’s Crown Prince’s Bay.
Northern New Guinea softshell turtle (Pelochelys signifera)
© WWF Pacific Enlarge
Alfred Masul with his children who have set up their own mangrove nursery to help build resiliance against sea level rise in the Bismark Sea. Their neighbouring clans in Malala Bay have already lost an island the children used to play on in the 1970s.
© WWF Pacific Enlarge

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