Up to date data needed for Turtle Moratorium
The turtle data report was collated from findings that were undertaken by research students of the University of the South Pacific, Fiji National University, WWF-Pacific volunteers and community turtle monitors or Dau-ni-Vonus during the peak nesting months of January to February, back in 2014.
Tamata Jnr. adds that there is a need for all Government and Conservation NGO stakeholders and the tourism industry to come together with their respective data and collate the data for a better understanding of where turtle conservation efforts in Fiji is at.
“Data is available but it is everywhere and the goal now is to see what we have and then strategically map out next steps. For WWF we will revive our efforts in Bua and Macuata and pull other provinces like Lomaiviti and Serua in as well.”
“Conservation efforts have shown over the years an increase in the nestling population in the North and this is the same message from other communities in Fiji, but we need new supporting data to back up our case for Government to make the right decision reflecting a healthy population or a declining population,” Tamata Jnr. said.
The availability of funding is the main reason why such data surveys cannot be carried out on a consistent basis. Something, Tamata Jnr. reveals WWF-Pacific is working through proposals and possible partnerships to carry out such surveys to make available the necessary data from stakeholders.
Tamata Jnr. adds that despite the lack of consistent and up to date data, a positive outcome of the moratorium is that stakeholders are all on board for the protection of sea turtles in Fiji, whether it is working together to strengthen regulations or for an extension of the moratorium.
“Government and stakeholders such as the tourism industry have agreed to work together on the review of the current Recovery Plan, to have a look at where we are and how to move forward to protect these ancient migratory species. For instance, industry stakeholders such as Treasure Island Resort have a great turtle conservation programme and they have data on tagging and genetic sampling with the technical expertise from USP. For WWF-Pacific, we are able to tap into funds to try and bring stakeholders together and are in the process of sourcing for funding to carry out research as well,” Tamata Jnr. added.
WWF-Policy Coordinator and Great Sea Reef Programme Manager, Alfred Ralifo highlights that the awareness over the last 20 year period has led to a paradigm shift.
“Awareness and policies informed by science is WWF's approach to promoting the protection of marine turtles and WWF is working at many levels of society to help strengthen awareness on the plight of sea turtles in Fiji, Solomon Islands, PNG and globally. We work with communities at grass-roots level by training select members to become sea turtle champions,” he said.
A ‘Big Win’ for Fiji is the years of advocacy and training at the community level that had led to the establishment of the Community Network of Dau-ni-Vonu or turtle monitors who enforce the turtle moratorium at community level, champion turtle awareness and contribute to the protection of critical turtle habitats as well as collect data to inform policy.
Ralifo adds that WWF has also worked with schools and the Ministry of Education to integrate sea turtle awareness into the school curriculum.
“At the national level, WWF continues to work with the Fijian Government, donors and other stakeholders to review and develop policies to protect sea turtles and their critical habitats. This include preventing marine plastic pollution of all kinds through better policies and waste management that will save the sea turtles; additionally working with the fishing industry to strengthen best practices that can help reduce sea turtle by catch,” revealed Ralifo.
Out of the seven species of sea turtles, four of these species are found in Fiji waters. These are the Hawksbill (Taku), Leatherback (Dakulaca), Green Turtle ( Vonu Dina) and the Loggerhead (Tuvonu) whose status are either critically endangered or endangered, under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List for threatened and migratory species.
Turtle conservation is a mandate under Fiji’s commitments to the Convention on Biological Diversity, reflected in the National Biodiversity Strategic Action Plan and is one of the 16 commitments made by the Minister for Fisheries Hon Semi Koroilavesau at the United Nations Oceans conference in New York in June 2017.