In Fiji, community monitors help protect sea turtles

A diver in the water holding a large sea turtle

KAVEWA ISLAND :: FIJI

Emosi Time is an experienced turtle catcher. With a perceptive eye and a decisive plunge into Fiji’s crystalline waters, he can pull a sea turtle from the ocean floor to the surface in just moments. Once, the endangered marine animal might have become a meal, served as a delicacy at a ceremonial feast, wedding, or funeral. Now, the former hunter uses his skills to track and protect sea turtles—keystone species that help maintain the health of reefs and oceans.

Harvesting and selling sea turtles has been banned in Fiji for over a decade, but their meat has long been consumed by those who can afford it—and poaching is rife. Pile on the impacts of rising sea levels and climate change, as well as bycatch due to indiscriminate fishing gear, and the critically endangered hawksbill turtle’s population has plummeted 80% in three generations. Endangered green turtles are also under threat, accounting for 60% of sea turtles harvested illegally here from 2021 to 2022.

“It was time for a change,” says Time of his decision to become a community sea turtle monitor through a program established by WWF-Pacific in 2010. Known as daunivonu, these volunteers work to increase Fiji’s sea turtle populations by monitoring and safeguarding nesting sites, tagging turtles, counting eggs, and helping hatchlings survive the perilous first moments of life. Thanks to their efforts, many sites have seen rising numbers of nesting sea turtles and successful hatchlings—evidence that local communities are critical to turtle conservation.

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