Let's Protect Our Turtles
WWF South Pacific Representative KesaiaTabunikawai said we all need to recognise the important biological, ecological, economic and cultural role turtles perform and work together to protect them.
These ancient mariners of the world’s oceans with ancestors dating back over 110 million years are protected under the Fisheries (Protection of Turtles) Amendment Regulations 2010 or Turtle Moratorium 2008 to 2018.
The Moratorium disallows the killing, selling, harvesting of meat, eggs or shell during this period unless with prior exemption obtained from the Minister for Fisheries.
Permits cannot be given during nesting periods that run from the beginning of November to the end of February every year.
Both the Moratorium and the Fiji Sea Turtle Recovery Plan along with various conservation strategies and community engagements provide conditions that allow turtle numbers to grow again.
Ms. Tabunakawai said these strategies would be fruitless if they lack the full support of the communities.
“It is clearly apparent that collaborative effort is absolutely vital to management and conservation efforts for a species such as the marine turtle,” Ms.Tabunakawai said.
“The migratory nature of turtles underlies the importance of partnerships between government, communities, and conservation organisations to ensure the success of its protection across a range of habitats.”
Through their feedings habits, these iconic species perform important controls within ecosystems they live in and therefore are critically important for example green turtles feed predominantly on seagrass meadows exerting control on their growth. Overgrowth of seagrass meadows could detrimentally replace less dominant species.
Hawksbill turtles that feed on coral reef sponges, control their growth, which if left unchecked could eventually affect the overall health of reef ecosystems. The leatherback turtle exists on a diet predominantly made up of jellyfish, controlling its growth and protecting fish larval populations.
Without the control mechanisms turtles provide and coupled with other pressures on coral reefs like overfishing and coral bleaching, the health of coral reefs are threatened so that island nations become increasingly vulnerable and pour more funds into erecting seawalls to protect communities from damaging wave action.
Known as a chiefly fish, turtles have over centuries contributed to the richness of iTaukei traditions, and are considered part of traditional wealth or iyau for traditional functions.
“Such rich traditions act as a social conservation but with their erosion turtles have become common property fished by all so their numbers have declined,” Ms. Tabunakawai said.
“These are creatures that have existed since the dinosaur era but are now listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List and for the first time going down the road of extinction if we don’t protect them.
“Their loss also means we don’t benefit from a critical ecological role that they perform of protecting the health of coral reefs that shield us from tidal energies.
“It’s imperative that we rally to action now, to lend turtles our voices and protect this ancient creature for our fates are interlinked for turtles must remain an important part of our future.”