The Tetepare Descendants’ Association take their conservation work very seriously. They protect and manage the entire island most especially their 13km-long Marine Protected Area. Since 2004, they have had a dedicated roster of rangers and different marine monitoring teams from scientists to volunteers doing research in Tetepare’s different unique ecosystems from marine, forest to freshwater habitats. They have conducted many conservation programs to help them understand and learn more about their precious island.
In the four days we spent there, we were part of four monitoring activities performed by the rangers & women staff who all come from the neighbouring Rendova Island Village. The first activity was patrolling the entire island which the rangers do once a week. The second was the rangers finding and measuring coconut crabs which can be found all over the island. The third was a seaweed count conducted by the women kitchen & housekeeping staff. Finally the finale was a turtle tagging activity done by the rangers and this we did at the height of a rain storm.
Coconut Crab Monitoring
Tetepare Rangers lead a two hour hike to the coastal forest (normally at night) to find the nocturnal coconut crabs, the largest land-living arthropod in the world. They set up food traps to lure the massive crabs out of their holes.
Females reach sexual maturity after five years. They carry their eggs in their underbelly for a month until they are ready to release their eggs into the ocean’s shallow waters at night. In their larval stage, coconut crabs live in the ocean’s planktonic column for about 2 – 3 weeks. Then the babies become air breathing, come ashore to look for an empty snail shell to inhabit and live like hermit crabs for 1 – 2 years. Then they discard their shell and dig their burrows in the forest and start living their whole lives underground.
These crabs used to be common in the islands of the South Pacific but with over harvesting due to its delicious meat, these crabs are close to extinct in many places. But with Tetepare being protected, there are still a healthy population of crabs here. TDA rangers established and monitor 6 transect areas for the crabs’ presence, size, sex and reproductive state. Three of the transects are inside the Marine Protected Area and three are outside. The rangers’ monitoring work determines the numbers and sizes of crabs inside and outside the protected area.
The aim of the seagrass monitoring program is to gather data on the diversity, coverage and health of seagrasses which are indicators of the overall health of the lagoon ecosystems surrounding Tetepare Island.
TDA rangers routinely catch and tag green and hawksbill turtles which feed in the waters close to Tetepare. Data are collected on the turtle’s species, shell width, length and any distinguishing marks. The data is recorded and a copy is forwarded to the South Pacific Regional Environmental Programs (SPREP) database.
The aim of this program is to keep a record of the numbers of turtles and turtle species using Tetepare’s waters as well as to try to track trends in the population and gather information which will help researchers learn about the habits and movements of sea turtles. This program also partners TDA’s efforts with international organizations.