FOR the first time villagers will participate in turtle tagging in a conservation bid to sustain marine turtle numbers.
The pilot exercise to be held at Nakalou Village in Macuata this week reflects concern for the declining marine turtle population and the possible irreversible loss of a provincial cultural icon.
Organised by the World Wide Fund for Nature, tagging the turtles will help monitor them.
WWF marine species officer Merewalesi aveti said it would allow them to collect baseline information crucial for the species survival.
"What we are trying to do is trace their migration patterns, where they go to nest and feed, how long they travel and how far," she said.
"We are piloting this program in Macuata because the turtle is a cultural icon for the province. There are about 10 nesting sites for turtles along the Great Sea Reef, the kinds that exist are mainly the green and the hawksbill turtle."
But numbers are declining according to Ms Laveti.
"It's a global trend and records from the local fisheries department also show the same picture. We believe involving villagers will help restore their numbers," she said.
"Villagers will take ownership of the exercise and the turtles."
Fish wardens from coastal villages along the Great Sea Reef, which is the third longest barrier reef system in the world, will be part of the training to build their capacity to conserve turtles.
Ms Laveti said it would also address reckless attitudes of some villagers who harvest turtles for feasts.
"One message that we are giving out is to 'protect our cultural icon' because if they don't protect these marine creatures it could threaten the existence of their cultural identity," she said.
"Turtles are revered creatures in the cultural context of Macuata because of their association with chiefly lineage.
Similar programs are expected around the country.