Plea for our turtles
9 July, 2017, 12:00 am
WIDELY regarded as one of the most endangered species in the world, sea turtle populations have been under threat across the globe.
Here at home, efforts of agencies like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) have helped create greater awareness about the plight of sea turtles.
This month, Fiji joined other maritime nations in the world to mark World Sea Turtles Day.
According to WWF-Pacific, the setting up of the first turtle moratorium from 2009 to 2018 by the Fijian Government on the harvesting of turtles made tremendous strides to protect the ancient migratory marine species.
WWF-Pacific’s marine species project co-ordinator Laitia Tamata said the inception of the moratorium had brought about a huge number of reports from concerned citizens in both the rural and urban areas on illegal harvesting and keeping injured turtles and hatchlings (baby turtles).
“For our small island nation, the main issue that we face is enforcing our environmental laws,” he said. “Fortunately for us, Government and conservation partners here in Fiji have done a great deal over the years with our communities who are key to all this.
“In 2014 a turtle monitoring expedition was conducted by the University of the South Pacific and the Fiji National University to analyse the status of the moratorium in its fifth year.
“The turtle monitoring proved that not only the foraging (feeding) but also the nesting numbers of turtles have increased since 2011. More nests mean more baby turtles.”
WWF-Pacific also released a report in 2014 that highlighted the number of permits issued decreased from 125 in 2012 to 51 in 2013 and four in 2014.
“However, there has been an increase in the number of eyewitness reports on illegal harvesting and retention of turtles in some areas.”
Out of the seven species of turtles in the world, four nest and migrate through Fiji’s waters.
According to WWF-Pacific, the four species of turtles are listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
“These are the hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricate) and leatherback (dermochelys coriacea) turtles which are now critically endangered with the loggerhead (caretta caretta) and green (chelonia mydas) turtles are listed as endangered,” WWF-Pacific said.
“Turtle conservation is a mandate under Fiji’s commitments to the Convention on Biological Diversity reflected in the National Biodiversity Strategic Action Plan and was one of the 16 commitments made by the Minister for Fisheries, Semi Koroilavesau, at the United Nations Oceans conference in New York.”
According to Mr Tamata, WWF-Pacific and stakeholders formed a great partnership with Government to raise awareness and help support communities to establish management rules for safeguarding key habitats of sea turtles in Fiji.
“This involves training community members in the provinces of Macuata, Bua, Lomaiviti and Serua to collect nesting and foraging (feeding) data to assist in the monitoring of the current phase of the turtle moratorium ban.”
One of the major breakthroughs for turtle conservation success story was the creation of the daunivonu (DnV) or turtle monitors network established in 2010.
The network was an initiative of the WWF-Pacific’s marine species program.
“The DnV program has proven to be a success in that it promoted behavioural change for the DnVs and it is sustainable in terms of compliance, where there is no enforcement needed as the awareness has been applied to the different audiences within that community,” Mr Tamata said.
Presently, there are about 80 turtle monitors campaigning for turtle protection on Vanua Levu, with key nurseries located on Yadua Island in Bua Province and Kavewa Island in Macuata Province.
The tourism sector has also stepped up to show its support for turtle conservation. Resorts such as Leleuvia Island Resort and Turtle Island have partnered with WWF-Pacific and the Ministry of Fisheries by monitoring sea turtle health and population through satellite and flipper tagging activities with guests.
WWF-Pacific’s conservation director Francis Areki said even turtles were not immune to the impacts of climate change as beach erosion through sea level rise could wipe out nesting sites and warmer conditions of beaches could also affect the turtle population.
“On average turtles lay 100 eggs for each nest with a hatchling rate of around 90 per cent. Studies have revealed that out of that 100, only one hatchling makes it into adulthood,” he said.
WWF-Pacific’s sustainable fisheries and seafood program manager Duncan Williams said turtles were also pressured by the region’s tuna fishing fleets as they were caught incidentally by tuna long line and purse seine fishing vessels.
“This has led to WWF partnering with local tuna fishing companies in training fishermen in the use of tools and techniques for the safe release of turtles,” he said.
Mr Tamata said with the present moratorium ending in December, 2018, WWF-Pacific hoped there was enough awareness to counter the needs and wants of communities when it came to harvest and consumption.
“WWF and stakeholders can best address this by further increasing the awareness in our communities on why there is a moratorium in place and some basic information like the basic life cycle of turtles and how every life stage comes under threat from animals, humans and offshore vessels,” he said.
According to Mr Tamata, most coastal community leaders proved traditional governance was critical by empowering people to adhere to the moratorium in addition to the criteria for legal harvest for chiefly functions only and the issuing of permits through the Ministry of Fisheries.