Off the coast of the Solomon Islands a female Hawksbill sea turtle swims with a newly attached satellite transmitter on its shell. The tracker will help scientists know where the turtle travels to better protect the species. Photo © Tim Calver

Outtakes: Tagging Turtles in the Arnavons

Spring 2017

In a far remote corner of the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, the endangered hawksbill sea turtle nests among a group of remote islands known as the Arnavons. Researchers know the hawksbills as well as the green sea turtles congregate here, but they’re not positive where they travel to once they’re at sea. Protecting them requires discovering their routes.

In April 2016, for a story in Nature Conservancy magazine, photographer Tim Calver traveled to the Arnavons to document researchers collecting information on the turtles and putting satellite tags on the hawksbills.

The tracking is the latest step in a long effort to help the hawksbills recover in the Solomon Islands. The population dropped drastically as locals hunted the turtles before and after the Arnavons were declared a protected area in the 1970s. Beginning in 1991, however, community efforts to protect and monitor the turtles have reduced hunting and bolstered the population: A paper in 2015 found that nests laid in the Arnavons had increased by 200 percent between 1991 and 2012.

“They’re always nesting,” Calver says. “When we were there we saw maybe four nests that hatched.”

Calver joined The Nature Conservancy’s Melanesia Director Rick Hamilton and the research team at the outpost as they carefully captured and placed trackers on 10 turtles. Hamilton still receives data from seven of them as they migrate to and from the Great Barrier Reef. He and others monitor turtles when they’re on land, but much of their lives are spent underwater. Tracking them helps fill in the gaps and better illustrate where conservation efforts—like those in the Arnavons marine conservation area—are needed.

As for the locals back at the outpost, “they’re really convinced that saving turtles is the right thing to do now,” Calver says. “So they’re all very dedicated to protecting these turtles of the Arnavon Islands.”

Getting to the field station (straight ahead in the photo) at one end of the Arnavon Islands was quite the trek. Calver and the researchers hopped multiple planes and boats over two days to get there. Once in this area of the Solomon Islands, boats are the only form of transportation and driving them takes quite a bit of local knowledge. “It’s all very shallow and a lot of coral,” Calver says. Here he was standing with a foot on either side of the gunnel at the bow of the boat. “The seas were often glassy-topped.” Photo © Tim Calver
Getting to the field station (straight ahead in the photo) at one end of the Arnavon Islands was quite the trek. Calver and the researchers hopped multiple planes and boats over two days to get there. Once in this area of the Solomon Islands, boats are the only form of transportation and driving them takes quite a bit of local knowledge. “It’s all very shallow and a lot of coral,” Calver says. Here he was standing with a foot on either side of the gunnel at the bow of the boat. “The seas were often glassy-topped.” Photo © Tim Calver
“Incredible things were happening at this very remote station,” Calver says. The shallow waters near the beaches in the Arnavon Islands are home to coral, which the research group snorkeled to see (left), as well as the hawksbill (right) and green sea turtles, which hatched in protected nests on shore. Meanwhile Conservancy researcher Rick Hamilton was also looking for a recently rediscovered nautilus species nearby. Photo © Tim Calver
“Incredible things were happening at this very remote station,” Calver says. The shallow waters near the beaches in the Arnavon Islands are home to coral, which the research group snorkeled to see (left), as well as the hawksbill (right) and green sea turtles, which hatched in protected nests on shore. Meanwhile Conservancy researcher Rick Hamilton was also looking for a recently rediscovered nautilus species nearby. Photo © Tim Calver
Calver captured the research team attaching a satellite transmitter to the shell of a female hawksbill sea turtle. The group focused on female sea turtles because they are the ones that come ashore. “I’m sure the transmitter is very high-tech, but the process to get it onto the back of the turtle is very low-tech,” Calver says. Hamilton and his assistants used an epoxy to attach the device. “Those guys are putting it into place,” Calver says. “Everybody works at once so they can get it done before it dries up. The team put transmitters on 10 turtles during the trip and received data back from seven of them. Photo © Tim Calver
Calver captured the research team attaching a satellite transmitter to the shell of a female hawksbill sea turtle. The group focused on female sea turtles because they are the ones that come ashore. “I’m sure the transmitter is very high-tech, but the process to get it onto the back of the turtle is very low-tech,” Calver says. Hamilton and his assistants used an epoxy to attach the device. “Those guys are putting it into place,” Calver says. “Everybody works at once so they can get it done before it dries up. The team put transmitters on 10 turtles during the trip and received data back from seven of them. Photo © Tim Calver
“You don’t realize how loud the turtle is,” Calver says. The hawksbills were kept in pens for a few hours to ensure epoxy fully dried. As they moved around, banging their flippers on things, they caught the attention of everyone there. Photo © Tim Calver
“You don’t realize how loud the turtle is,” Calver says. The hawksbills were kept in pens for a few hours to ensure epoxy fully dried. As they moved around, banging their flippers on things, they caught the attention of everyone there. Photo © Tim Calver
The program hires several local rangers who keep tabs on the green turtle population and help Hamilton track the hawksbill turtles. Led by John Pita (left), the station’s environmental coordinator, rangers, like Leslie Rubaha (right), catch juvenile green sea turtles by diving to capture them in a shallow lagoon. “I’m sure that it’s skills these guys have been using for generations to catch turtles,” Calver says, “but now they’re just using them to do science work with.” Photo © Tim Calver
The program hires several local rangers who keep tabs on the green turtle population and help Hamilton track the hawksbill turtles. Led by John Pita (left), the station’s environmental coordinator, rangers, like Leslie Rubaha (right), catch juvenile green sea turtles by diving to capture them in a shallow lagoon. “I’m sure that it’s skills these guys have been using for generations to catch turtles,” Calver says, “but now they’re just using them to do science work with.” Photo © Tim Calver
“The turtles come up on the beach at night to lay their eggs,” Calver says. Here Michael Gninigele brings an adult hawksbill sea turtle back to the station to note its vital signs before attaching a transmitter to its shell. The adult sea turtles grow to be massive—this one’s shell was four or five feet long, Calver says, and it weighed hundreds of pounds. By noting the animals’ measurements and general health, the researchers can better monitor the health of the population. Photo © Tim Calver
“The turtles come up on the beach at night to lay their eggs,” Calver says. Here Michael Gninigele brings an adult hawksbill sea turtle back to the station to note its vital signs before attaching a transmitter to its shell. The adult sea turtles grow to be massive—this one’s shell was four or five feet long, Calver says, and it weighed hundreds of pounds. By noting the animals’ measurements and general health, the researchers can better monitor the health of the population. Photo © Tim Calver
For Calver, the remoteness of the project signaled it would be an amazing one from the start. Kia Village (above) was one of the stops on the way to the field station. “The farther you get from light and roads and stuff means there’s something special there,” he says. “It was definitely a sense of adventure.” Photo © Tim Calver
For Calver, the remoteness of the project signaled it would be an amazing one from the start. Kia Village (above) was one of the stops on the way to the field station. “The farther you get from light and roads and stuff means there’s something special there,” he says. “It was definitely a sense of adventure.” Photo © Tim Calver

— NCM

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