Lau Seascape district representatives eager to support Fiji Marine Turtle Survey
The virtual workshop introduced community members to a newly developed sociocultural survey and provided training on its implementation. The sociocultural survey will gather information from community members on the sociocultural and economic motivations for turtle use and trade, as well as potential opportunities for alternative livelihoods to reduce turtle exploitation.
The training workshop was held with the support of WWF-UK and the SPREP BIEM Initiative. The BIEM Initiative is key result area 5 of the Pacific-European Union Marine Partnership (PEUMP) Programme, which is funded by the European Union and the Government of Sweden. Key Result Area 5.4 is focused on assessing the extinction risk of endangered marine species which includes the extinction risk of the six species of turtles present in the Pacific Region.
In parallel, WWF-Australia is hosting and coordinating the Marine Turtle Use and Trade Initiative, which aims to arrest the alarming decline of hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) across the Asia-Pacific region. SPREP and WWF-Pacific are working in partnership to implement these complementary projects in Fiji to investigate the sociocultural use of marine turtles, and in addition, monitor key index turtle nesting beaches in Fiji for impacts of climate change to inform national and regional decision-making, to reduce the use and trade of marine turtles.
During the discussions, the district representatives from Oneata, Moce, Cicia, Matuku and Ono were brought up to speed with efforts undertaken towards safeguarding Fiji’s Marine Sea Turtles at regional, national and the community level, aligning them to important regional documents, International laws such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) and the Convention of Migratory Species of Wild Animals as well as Fiji’s Offshore Fisheries Management Regulation 2014.
WWF’s Fisheries Project officer and facilitator, Laitia Tamata highlighted that the main emphasis of the survey is to assess the selected areas that need more effort in terms of community based management and the protection of turtle nesting sites across Fiji.
“The interest in marine turtle conservation shown by the representatives was amazing given their very healthy and strong traditional governance, which will be the basis of their motivation given that green turtles are abundant in Lau; however hawksbill also occur there,” Tamata said.
Conservation International Senior Manager Fiji Marine Program, Semisi Meo highlighted that species research is an area of significance under the Lau Seascape work, as it will enable better-informed management by the traditional leaders.
“With better understanding of the species distribution dynamics and behaviour patterns, these species would be assured of its management at the ground level,” Meo said.
Conservation International has been conducting turtle research in Vanuabalavu since 2019.
“We had been conducting turtle research in Vanuabalavu since 2019 and this led to the designation of Duff reef as a turtle conservation sanctuary in November 2020. The reef about 11 square kilometres in size and the entire reef is closed with the sand cay that is on the reef a prime nesting location from the research.
“In this research, we are broadening this to include the entire five clusters of the Lau Seascape conservation area and we have trainees from Vanuabalavu, Matuku, Totoya, Oneata, Moce, and Ono. Under the project, we will get a snapshot of turtle management, sociocultural and economic motivations for turtle use and trade, and nestings across these island groups,” he added.
Meo said the partnership with WWF is timely given that the province of Lau is contributing to a national and regional effort towards improving turtle conservation at large.
“Ever since the moratorium was introduced by government in 2008, Oneata, has placed a ban on turtle consumption and we are beginning to witness changes as we see turtles frequenting our shores. This is also made possible through the support provided by our traditional leaders," said Aisake Vakaloloma, the District Representative of Oneata.
“I also support the moratorium, however turtle consumption still continues in other parts of Lau and I believe that by using our traditional governance and support from our traditional leaders, we would see improvements in behavioural patterns of the villagers; especially when a decision on a complete ban is to be made, the people will have to support the decision. If they don’t, they will face the brunt of that decision,” highlighted Draunidalo, the representative of the Bose Vanua of Cicia.
Roko Josefa Cinavilakeba, the Paramount Chief of the Yasayasa Moala cluster of Islands is working towards ensuring there is enough awareness to be able to counter the needs and wants of communities when it comes to the harvest and consumption of marine turtles.