Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Among all the world's turtles, the pig-nosed turtle is unique. Like a marine turtle, the pig-nosed has long, flipper-like appendages, but it also has movable digits like fresh water turtles. Indeed, it's the last surviving species of a family of turtles biologists believe represents an evolutionary link between fresh water and marine turtles.
According to a new survey, however, this last member of the Carettochelyidae family may soon be extinct. Already, it has experienced more than a 50 percent decline in a little over 20 years and the outlook for the future is not good.Previously, the most recent study survey conducted on the pig-nosed turtle—which is found only in Papua New Guinea—was led by Mark Rose between 1980 and 1982. Using this as a benchmark, Professor Carla Eisemberg of the University of Canberra, Australia, updated the data with a study that concluded this year.
Comparing the results of the two studies Eisernberg estimates "the decline in this pig-nosed turtle population to be more than 50% since 1981...such a decline is likely to be widespread as the species is under similar pressures elsewhere in Papua New Guinea."
Highly prized as food, Eisernberg believes the pig-nosed to be the most heavily exploited turtle in New Guinea. Moreover, her research has shown pressures to have increased on the species in recent years.
More than 95 percent of monitored nests showed signs of egg harvesting and researchers estimate that more than 160 adult female turtles have been harvested in recent years. This has led to a serious gender imbalance in the population leaving the species precariously close to the point at which sustainable reproduction will no longer be possible.
The end of tribal warfare in communities neighboring rivers and the introduction of modern fishing gear were identified as the main causes of intensified turtle harvesting.
Eisernberg recommends the initiation of a conservation program that considers local demand for the turtle as a source of food and provides viable alternatives to encourage community participation.
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