Bougainville News : Reflections of turtles and our culture

Simon Turtle

Story by Simon Pentanu Pok Pok Island

When I was a kid growing up we use to see a lot of greenback turtles on the sea  surface around our waters.They would come up to breathe every now and then. Leather back turtles were also around but they were not as numerous. The old people use to say leatherbacks preferred less populated and less travelled sea lanes and preferred to go ashore to bury and hatch their eggs on black beaches. 

Our mode of sea transport was canoe of course. The indomitable motorised Yamaha boats flooded Bougainville very quickly only following the advent of mining on the Island. Anyways, with canoes we could paddle very close to the turtles, as kids we were tempted to jump on them but tales of turtles taking kids into the deep were told to us to discourage us. You could say that this and similar fables served a very practical conservation purpose. 

There are greenback turtles still around but the hunting “grounds” for the big ones are far and away from the Island. These days they are caught mostly for feasts and other special occasions. On the rare occasions when young turtles have been sold alive at the fish market at Mangkaki, I’ve seen expat NGOs and other visiitng folk buy them and walk down to the beach and release them to swim away into their habitat. There is no doubt the message has been clearly understood and you will not see any live turtles being sold amongst the fish. This has not stopped turtle meat being sold though, it has its own deicacy. But it is an achievement that RSPCTF (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Turtles and Fishes) would be proud of. 

The last time I was home just last month I thought a lot about turtles while my daughter and two villagers were on a picnic day out on Tausina Island. I thought then, if there aren’t turtles to see on the day we should imitate some turtle postures, turtle swimming, turtle spins, turtle flaps and getaways. Turtle whatever !! 

So here, in this photo I have turned turtle imitating a turtle float. I am a really huge turtle, a leatherback if you like, afloat and lost to the world. You will notice that I am floating face up with my back down. Turtles float and swim with heads and beaks down and backs up.


2 comments on “Bougainville News : Reflections of turtles and our culture

  1. Wow Simon, you certainly know how to imitate a turtle big time.
    How are your folks on Pok Pok Island? I remember going there in 1995 and hearing about the atrocities that were done by the PNGDF under the command of BCL and Rio Tinto.
    Any turtles in the Jaba River yet?
    What happens to the turtles around Pok Pok Island if mining begins????

  2. No turtles in Jaba River. What you have are men, women and children in hoards searching and washing alluvial gold with mercury and sending it down the river system. Its been going on for some years, the rivers are more polluted and toxic now then wen Panguna closed. I have seen mercury being handled with the naked hand. WE do not have to wait for mining to begin, the landowners have beaten everybody to it to scavenge, but worse do irreparable damage to their own health and unimaginable mineral pollution using mercury. That’s what we are most concerned about along the cost, even if mining never resumes. You certainly know how to jump out of your skin without knowing what actually is going on in Panguna long after Rio and BCL left (perhaps never to return).

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