WWF study shows decline in Fiji marine turtle shell trade
The result of four years of surveys conducted in all municipal markets around Viti Levu, Turtle shells and derivatives looks at the trade in marine turtles shells, products and other species in Viti Levu, Fiji’s largest island.
It reveals that while sea turtles face many threats in the wild, their biggest challenge comes from human demand for subsistence and traditional products derived from their shells.
The report specifies that Fiji’s Turtle Moratorium needs to be amended if this iconic species is to survive. For example, the Moratorium currently allows exemptions if turtle shells or their derivatives are used as ceremonial tokens of appreciation or for other traditional purposes.
Capacity to monitor the number of turtles captured and the trade for its meat, shell or eggs also needs further strengthening, the report says, to guarantee the long-term survival of Fiji’s threatened marine turtles.
Awareness campaigns have been effective for consumers and vendors
However, an increase in awareness campaigns developed by government, NGOs, and media over the past few years have had a positive impact on conservation, with more people now taking action to protect Fiji’s threatened marine turtle populations.
Lead author and WWF South Pacific marine species officer Merewalesi Laveti highlights in the report that the enforcement of the Endangered and Protected Species Act (1998) and the extension of the turtle moratorium have further enhanced the protection and conservation of marine turtles.
“A total of 102 traders were extensively interviewed for this report and they have indicated the lack of demand from consumers for turtle derivatives”, she said. “Consumers who had an interest in turtle derivatives have made a shift to wooden artefacts.”
Results from the survey also indicate a change in vendor behaviour, which has been brought about thanks to ongoing campaigns to raise public awareness on Fiji’s endangered marine turtles.
“The change in vendor behaviour shows that the Endangered Species Protection Act and the Turtle Moratorium have been effective in enforcing laws on the ground and increasing levels of public awareness.”
Black market remains an unknown quantity
The report shows that the 57 turtle shells sold in the markets from 2006 to 2008 decreased to none in 2009. However, this figure does not reflect the level of underground trading in black markets.
“Instances where the derivatives were found, dealers explained that the items were on the shelves from previous years. This is an achievement that would not have been possible without effective partnerships,” Laveti said.
Other species of concern remain on the shelves
While there has been a noticeable decline in the sales of turtle shells and derivatives, the sale of other species – which the report calls “species of special concern” – continued to sell in larger volumes in fish and municipal markets around Fiji.
Species falling into this category include the near threatened juvenile Black tip shark and the endangered Hammerhead shark, which are usually sold for food. The report says this illustrates a lack of enforcement on fishing size limits as well as general awareness on what species need to be protected.
In most cases fish species of special concern tend to be ignored by traders and continue to appear in markets due to consumer demand.
Continuing to work with other stakeholders to protect marine turtles and other species of concern
The WWF South Pacific species programme works closely with the Fiji Sea Turtle Steering Committee (FSTSC) to improve awareness on the need for conservation and protection of the sea. Composed of turtle conservation stakeholders, the steering committee is also looking to extend their mandate to cover species of special concern such as the sharks, humphead wrasse and bumphead parrotfish.
Turtle shells and derivatives reiterates the need to enforce existing regulations but at the same time recognises the need for increased financial assistance to be focussed on initiating and continuing research for new information about marine turtle population in Fiji.