From Predator to Guardian
Emosi Time, the 36 year old village headman from Kavewa Island, Macuata province, on the northern, sunny side of Fiji is a fisherman who has signed off hunting or eating turtles.
He said his signature introduction symbolises his life – one that is tied to the protection of the endangered marine reptile.
As a turtle monitor, Time visits village after village within the two districts spreading the turtle conservation gospel, encouraging his kin to stop the haphazard harvesting of turtles and treat the reptile as a friend.
Time performs beach surveys that include protecting turtle nesting sites, sea grass bed monitoring and improving awareness on the plight of sea turtles amongst coastal villagers.
He truly is a turtle’s best friend.
“I give them a voice, my legs carry their plea to the human race to protect them, and my hands shield them!”
However, some years back Time was a turtle’s worst nightmare – a ruthless hunter, who plundered their nests, and predated their waters.
He held the proud title of top fishermen and turtle hunter along the 100 kilometer stretch of sea nestling islands that fall within the Nadogo and Namuka districts.
As a young boy, Time was first inducted into the rituals of turtle hunting when he could barely hold up a spear.
His family was widely acknowledged as turtle gurus, intimately aware of the movements, habits, locations, breeding times of the reptile, the types of waves that are good for hunting, wind direction and the spot on a turtle’s body that must be penetrated to kill.
“Whenever someone needed a turtle for a feast, they came home and we went out hunting,” he said.
Adrenaline pumping, Time said he could barely hold back his excitement, like a wild animal hot on a blood trail smelling a kill soon as he was old enough to go turtle hunting.
“It was a big thing to kill a turtle! Big in the sense that if you killed one, you’d be recognised as a true sea warrior, a man standing ten feet tall.
“I was a mere 10 year old when I came home carrying my first turtle. I felt so proud and tall, although at that time I barely made my grandfather’s shoulders but the looks of admiration I got from the villagers and women crowded around, made me feel like a giant.
“Turtles are iconic in our Fijian culture, used in chiefly food presentations either to welcome, farewell or as a show of gratitude during traditional events, so catching one is a major thing.”
“Sometimes I killed for feasts, other times for fun and I always boasted about it!”
He estimates slaughtering more than 100 turtles in his young life.
It’s not a statistic that fills him with pride now; in fact he said he hangs his head in shame at the very thought
“I attended a workshop on turtles organised by WWF-South Pacific at Nakalou village and it changed my life,” he said.
“Learning about a turtle’s biology, breeding cycles and how vulnerable they are to human threats – I mean they just lie there and humbly wait to die, they don’t put up a fight.
“I don’t feel like much of a warrior after all.”
Anthropogenic (human impacts) and climate change constitute the two major threats to the survival of sea turtles.
Time shares his remarkable journey of change from killer to turtle defender wherever he can – village kava sessions, meetings, church gatherings.
“I tell them the importance of turtle conservation and how we Fijians lose our customary uniqueness and turtles will lose their ‘mana” (magic), if we don’t harvest turtles sustainably.
Already on his island, Kavewa, Time has made an impact and turtle meat consumption has been banned.
Since 2011, for the first time, Kavewa islanders were able to record the number of turtle nesting sites, and are keenly involved in their protection.
“I don’t get paid for this job, I’m happy just to see turtle numbers grow again, its atonement and remuneration enough!”
The Turtle Monitors Network is an initiative of the Marine Species Program of WWF-South Pacific, implemented to allow for a recovery in sea turtle numbers.
Written by Theresa Fox, Communications Officer, WWF South Pacific