Menacing waves left us clinging to the boat as we made our way towards the reef.
Despite roughly bobbing on the waves and dreading the thought of dispelling the contents of our tummies in the most unflattering way, everyone was high spirited and laughter rocked the boat even more. The enthusiasm of witnessing these ancient creatures had gripped us.
And as anticipated, lo and behold, we came across four on the surface close to a seagrass bed near the island.
Adding to the excitement was the prospect of finding nesting sites on Yadua Island.
Much to our disappointment, the reality of the absence of nesting sites was hard to stomach. A key nesting site where the turtle monitors (DauniVonu) had tagged a nesting Hawksbill turtle, had been washed away, leaving an impenetrable bedrock along the beach and a steep terrain close to the vegetation zone.
“The nesting turtles find it hard to even find a place to nest, as this beach is gradually being washed away,” said Pita Qarau, a DauniVonu from Yadua.
On another nesting beach on the island sanctuary of YaduaTaba, a nest we inspected had been inundated with 100% unsuccessful eggs. “There go 145 baby turtles,” were the first words of Barry Hill, another DauniVonu from Yadua, resounding the sinking sentiments shared by the team.
The plight of sea turtles in Fiji is not only attributed to its high exploitation, but also because of natural occurrences. These situations have encouraged us to address these impacts even more. The WWF South Pacific Programme Office has been working very closely with the Department of Fisheries, to make ammendments to the Turtle Moratorium to make provisions for the relocation of vulnerable nests.
The Dau Ni Vonu's will also require special training in relocating the nests keeping in mind the need for properly handling turtle eggs and choosing appropriate sites to relocate these nests to.
Collaborations on a communal level, as well as a more unified approach in trying to save these species can ensure these ancient, gentle creatures continue to return to these nesting sites in years to come.
Written by Thomas Tui, the Marine Species Coordinators at WWF South Pacific