Bainimarama Tags First Turtle
Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama saluted the Dau Ni Vonu (turtle monitors) network in bolstering the work of turtle conservation in Fiji, while tagging and releasing his first turtle on Yadua Island in Bua province recently.
Far flung, Yadua off the main coast of Vanua Levu, the second largest island in Fiji, is a main nesting site for sea turtles and project site for WWF South Pacific’s Marine Species Programme.
Bainimarama was on the island to open a housing scheme, when he was invited by the Dau Ni Vonu network on the island to tag a turtle, which had been caught the night before on Yadua Taba reef for the special occasion.
It was a high moment for turtle conservation as the leader of the Fijian government tagged and released the female, hawksbill turtle that he named Adi Venikau.
The name Adi Venikau is reminiscent of the era when he and other civil servants accompanying him, were primary school students using pencils, and the journey to the echelons of leadership.
As he tagged Adi Venikau, Bainimarama hailed the DnV programme that was setup by WWF South Pacific in 2010 with various turtle nesting site communities, saying that turtle conservation has made strides because of it.
He added that the DnV supports the national goal of increasing the sea turtle population.
He said he hoped his action would serve as a good example to other Fijians to support the work of turtle conservation and protect sea turtles.
Sustainable resource management is a goal of the Fijian Government highlighted under the auspices of Pillar 5 of the Peoples Charter of Achieving Economic Growth while Ensuring Sustainability. A result of that is the appointment of conservation officers attached to each of the 14 provinces, providing expert guidance on natural resource management.
Accompanying the Prime Minister on his trip to Yadua was the new conservation officer for Bua province Eferemo Kubunavanua.
Leader of the turtle monitors on Yadua Island Pita Qarau said they were elated that the Prime Minister had accepted their invitation because of the awareness that would explode around the issue of turtle conservation.
Qarau was on the mark, for there has been a flurry of media highlights of the tagging since.
It was an emotional moment for the head of the Vanua Yadua, the Turaga Tunimata Jone Cakau and his people when AdiVenikau crawled back into the ocean.
“Its always been that way, from the very first turtle that was tagged in 2010 when the DnV program first began here on the island to now with the Prime Minister, we’ve always felt emotional to see another turtle tagged,” he said.
“The turtles are our friends and they swim around Yadua, come and nest on the beaches and depend on us for their protection so another turtle tagged is a success of the programme that has really changed the attitudes of all islanders.”
Qarau said on the island everyone is a turtle monitor at heart, although WWFSouth Pacific has facilitated a special training regime with five of the villagers, an indication of the overwhelming support for turtle conservation inspired with the spread of the turtle gospel.
“We are all turtle monitors now, from the head of the Vanua to the children because we all support the protection of turtles,” he said.
“On this island, no one goes fishing for turtle for food, we only go out to catch turtles for tagging purposes,” he said.
Twenty three turtles have been tagged since 2010, seven with satellite tags. Some have since come back to Yadua. The main purpose of tagging is to track the migration path of sea turtles, identify critical habitats for protection and as a means of awareness and advocacy with communities. Long term tag data can also illustrate population status.
Marine Species Program Coordinator Laitia Tamata is glad that turtle monitors have taken a bold step in raising awareness about turtle conservation with the invitation extended to the Prime Minister.
“One realises that the monitors understands the intricacies of turtle conservation especially the need to carry out awareness on a national scale and if it is seen that a leader like the Prime Minister is championing the cause, the influence it will have on others is undeniable,” he said.
“Within their communities turtle monitors have changed mindsets signifying the success of turtle conservation with people making a conscious choice to protect turtles.
“Now the monitors have moved beyond the confines of their own communities and are advocating on a national scale, knowing that a challenge they continue to face is poaching within nesting sites.
“The presence of a market for turtle meat, albeit under the radar of enforcement agencies, can undermine the work of turtle conservation as people continue to harvest them willy-nilly, thus the urgentneed to reach out to everyone.”
Northern division Fisheries Department head, Joji Vuakaca confidently noted that turtle harvesting is on the decline because of intensive awareness on the issue.
“The message is carried everywhere, in all the district meetings, and the provincial council sittings of the three provinces – Cakaudrove, Bua and Macuata,” he said.
“And having the Prime Minister tag a turtle reinforces the message.”