16 Jan 2024

Rapa Nui conservationists warn against 'selfies with sea turtles'

8:01 am on 16 January 2024
Sea Turtle in Rapa Nui.

Sea Turtle in Rapa Nui. Photo: Sernapesca Rapa Nui

A campaign is underway in on Easter Island to raise awareness about the vulnerability of seas turtles that inhabit the island and its waters.

It is the latest effort by local authorities and Chile's National Fisheries and Aquaculture Service (Sernapesca) to protect two endangered species of sea turtles known to inhabit Rapa Nui.

The campaign involves talks with the community and tourists with its main message being to not feed or take selfies with sea turtles, hence the project's name "No more selfies with sea turtles".

"The campaign that we have come to launch on Easter Island is to promote the care and respect of marine wildlife," regional director of Sernapesca, Paula Alarcón, said.

"Direct hunting for the consumption of their meat and/or eggs, bycatch, the destruction of their breeding habitats and the pollution of the oceans, present great threats to turtles, but also direct interaction with humans generates stress, poor handling can cause injuries," Alarcon said.

Workshop on Sea Turtle conservation, Rapa Nui

Workshop on Sea Turtle conservation, Rapa Nui Photo: Sernapesca Rapa Nui

The remote island of Rapa Nui is a popular feeding ground for the Green and Hawksbill turtles - known for their friendliness towards humans.

According to Sea Turtle Conservancy, there are between 85,000-90,000 Green turtles, and 20,000-23,000 Hawksbill turtles.

Frequent human interactions with the creatures disrupts their natural feeding and hunting habits, according to local conservationists.

A public notice written in English by Sernapesca warns visitors to "keep the furthest away from marine species".

"In Hanga Rio Rio, a small beach near Hanga Roa, it is not surprising that sea turtles come to swim next to you," the head of the Sernapesca Rapa Nui office, Faturangi Tepano, said.

"Their proximity to the coast generates great expectation, and they are so friendly that, especially tourists, go crazy to get pictures with these majestic animals," he added.

Rapa Nui children drawing turtles.

Photo: Sernapesca Rapa Nui

Conservationists have found that feeding and socialising with wildlife can disrupt their survival habits.

It is known also as "provisioning" where creatures become so accustomed to being fed by humans, that their hunting and tracking habits become regressed.

The creatures also become less guarded around humans - who could be potential hunters.

Rapa Nui authorities have also urged visitors and their communities to not litter or dispose of any trash into the oceans.

Sea turtles are among marine animals most affected by plastic pollution as they often mistake plastic bags for being Jelly fish - a common source of food for turtles.