Happy chief happy turtles
The Turaga na Tunimata, Jone Tavatava sat on the beach of his island home, his gaze out to sea, a satisfied look on his face.
“Now we see them in the lagoon right in front of the village, that rarely happened before when there was no moratorium in place,” he waved out his hand expansively to indicate the area where turtles have been spotted.
“There are so many more of them now; they swim together like a school of fish feeding in the lagoons near the beach. What a beautiful sight to see!”
The chief, held on to a strange looking spear, which was as tall as him. He held it out.
“You see this. This is my turtle spear. Four years ago when we decided to protect turtles, we all laid down our spears, beginning with me the island chief.
“At the time it seemed like a foolish decision because turtle meat is the absolute favorite, the tastiest creature in the sea. It’s so fresh and healthy I think and at one point I was eating it almost every day.”
The Turtle Moratorium 2009-2018 that ban the harvest of turtles or their eggs, inspired the setup of the Dau Ni Vonuor turtle monitors network in ten turtle nesting sites in Vanua Levu including Yadua Island, a prime location sought out by nesters.
TheDau Ni Vonu, a strategy designed to influence behavior that supports the growth of the sea turtle population in Fiji, has been successful in roping in turtle hunters, who have made a change for conservation, boldly speaking out against turtle harvesting without a permit from the Department of Fisheries.
Four years on, the Turaga Tunimata is happy the moratorium was introduced.
“I don’t know what others feel about this but I think it will be a sad day when turtles disappear from our waters. I don’t know about other chiefs in Fiji, but I believe that it’s important for leaders to make a stand for turtle conservation so that the people can learn to respect the moratorium as well,” he said.
Delightful as their presence maybe to Yadua islanders, turtles actually play a critical role in the marine ecosystem by maintaining healthy seagrass beds and coral reefs that provides key habitats for other marine life. The herbivorous green turtle that nests and forages in Fiji waters including Yadua Island, feeds on sea grass, improving their growth and reducing nitrogen that negatively impacts plant species, nutrient recycling, and the abundance of species like reef fish.
Another turtle, which is recorded in Fiji waters, the Loggerhead feeds on sea sponges, removing them from reefs, allowing species like corals to multiply.
As they nest on beaches, turtles help stabilize shorelines, by providing nutrients to nesting beaches that allow for vegetation growth.
These important functions are highlighted in the report Why Healthy Oceans Need Sea Turtles published by Oceana, an international organisation focused on ocean conservation.
Marine Species Coordinator Laitia Tamata said recent surveys carried out at Yadua indicated the return of turtles in huge numbers.
“In a count session that lasted 20 minutes, about 80 turtles were spotted foraging near the island. That’s quite a significant number.
“The Turaga na Tunimata is speaking bolding about the moratorium because they are feeling the benefit of their turtle conservation efforts, with the return of turtles to Yadua.”