Turtle concern: Australian businessman denies threatening to sell Conflict Islands to China

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The largely uninhabited atolls are a nesting ground for critically endangered hawksbill and green turtles, whose breeding season begins within weeks. Some thenGowrie-Smith had been talking about selling the islands or developing partnerships to support the conservation work for several years, and hoped the Australian government could work with PNG, or by supporting a charity, to protect the breeding grounds.

But Gowrie-Smith said any suggestion he was threatening to sell the islands to China was entirely wrong.“The point that’s been lost is that whomever I might sell it to may in turn decide to sell at some future point in time to a foreign nation that may or may not be friendly.” The Conflict Islands Conservation Initiative has employed rangers to protect and re-home eggs. They scoop the eggs out of danger and carry them in ziplock bags to a safer beach where they are reburied until they hatch. The project, which Gowrie-Smith said cost about $1m a year, has been supported by not-for-profits and by the cruise ships that have brought visitors to the islands.“That is the dominant activity of the islands,” Gowrie-Smith said.


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