Turtle conservation in Fiji at a glance
Since the setting up of the first Turtle Moratorium in 2009-2018 by the Fijian government on the harvesting of turtles, tremendous strides have been taken to protect these ancient migratory marine species.
WWF-Pacific’s Marine Species Project Coordinator, Laitia Tamata said since the inception of the Moratorium, there have been 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. However, 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.
Mr Tamata added that 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,” Tamata said.
He added that WWF-Pacific released a report in 2014 which highlighted the number of permits issued decreasing 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 is some areas.
There are seven species of turtles in the world in which four species nest and migrate through Fiji’s waters. These four species of turtles are also 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 listed as endangered.
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 Hon Semi Koroilavesau at the United Nations Oceans conference in New York.
Tamata said WWF-Pacific and stakeholders have formed a great partnership with Government in raising awareness to help support communities in establishing management rules to safeguard 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.
A major inroad to the Turtle conservation success story is the creation of the ‘Daunivonu’ (DnV) or turtle monitors network which was established in 2010. The network is an initiative of the Marine Species Program of WWF-Pacific which is built on the vision of the Fiji’s Sea Turtle Recovery Plan 2009-2013 (FSTRP) which focuses on increasing turtle numbers to a population that can be sustainable by 2026.
“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,” Tamata said.
To date, there are around 80 turtle monitors campaigning for turtle protection on Vanua Levu with key nurseries in the North located on Yadua Island of the Bua province and Kavewa Island in Macuata province.
The tourism sector have also shown their support for turtles conservation, with resorts like Leleuvia and Turtle Island partnering with WWF-Pacific and the Ministry of Fisheries by monitoring sea turtle health and population through satellite and flipper tagging activities with their guests.
WWF-Pacific’s Conservation Director Francis Areki indicates that even turtles are not immune to the impacts of climate change. Beach erosion through sea level rise can 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.
WWF-Pacific’s Sustainable Fisheries and Seafood Programme Manager, Duncan Williams, highlights that turtles are also pressured by the region’s Tuna fishing fleets as they are 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.
Tamata says with the current Moratorium ending in December 2018, WWF-Pacific is hoping that there is enough awareness to be able to counter the needs and wants of our communities when it comes 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 under comes under threat from animals, humans and offshore vessels.”
He added that most of our coastal community leaders have proven that traditional governance is critical by empowering their 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.