The pig-nosed turtle has helped sustain the communities in Papua New Guinea’s Kikori Delta for generations. ExxonMobil is working to ensure they will continue to be around for generations to come.
The turtle, called Piku by locals, is found in Papua New Guinea and Australia’s Northern Territory. In recent decades it has been overharvested for its protein-rich meat and eggs. When ExxonMobil launched development of a major liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in the region in 2012, the Piku population was already threatened.
As part of its project development process, ExxonMobil not only looks at production potential, it also factors in how the project might impact the local environment and surrounding communities. The assessment for the $19 billion PNG LNG project determined that ExxonMobil’s presence in the area wouldn’t negatively impact the Piku population. Still, the company viewed the problem of the diminishing turtle, which was on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, as an important issue.
“The Piku population was in severe decline, given they are a traditional food source for local populations,” said Andrew Barry, who leads ExxonMobil’s operations in Papua New Guinea. “They were about to be hunted out of existence.” In addition to losing an important element of regional biodiversity, failure to protect Piku turtles from local hunters would have also wiped out critical clues on the evolution of freshwater turtles.
A year before beginning construction, ExxonMobil stepped in with funding for a local initiative known as the Piku Conservation Project. Jointly led by Australia’s University of Canberra and the Biological Research Institute of the University of Papua New Guinea, the Piku Project aims to bring awareness to the importance of protecting this endangered reptile. It also seeks to generate jobs by, among other things, training field agents to closely monitor nesting sites. Current staff includes a research officer, a ranger, assistant rangers and more than 50 volunteers.
University of Canberra professor Arthur Georges described the program as more than just protecting an important turtle species, saying, “It is about building community awareness of the need for environmental sustainability.”
ExxonMobil has invested close to $1 million in the Piku Conservation Project. The funding has helped distribute more than 15,000 books to teach schoolchildren about the importance of protecting the endangered turtle. Some of the money also went to produce radio plays with pro-conservation messages.
Taking any species off the endangered list is a monumental task. One notable success, though, was the establishment of a community-led protected area at Wau Creek in the lowland headwaters of the Kikori. The Piku Conservation Project is currently lobbying local authorities to turn Wau Creek into a national wildlife management area.