At just 18 years old, Josua Muakula is the youngest turtle monitor in Fiji. He belongs to a team of 25 that have taken on the massive challenge of protecting endangered marine turtles. Why would a teenager get so involved in such a project, especially when he grew up eating turtle meat?
In his words, because: “The turtle is my friend!”
It’s been around two years since Muakula last ate turtle meat—a tradition in his culture. He came to the decision during a WWF turtle monitor training in a nearby village. Muakula realized how defenseless the marine turtles were and it stirred deep regret in him. After growing up hunting turtles, he was now determined to help save them.
“I wanted to stand up for them because I found out how their numbers kept on going down,” he said. “I know that if we don’t do something about it, future generations will never get to see a turtle and knowing the important role the turtle plays in our marine environment helped cement my decision.”
This choice to stop consuming turtles was not an easy transition for Muakula. His entire life has been closely intertwined with the sea, and that included harvesting turtles.
“The WWF training changed my life” he says. He looked into the eyes of a marine turtle after the training and felt a deep connection, as if the turtle was asking him for protection.
Now Muakula advocates for the species, sharing the turtle ‘gospel’ wherever and whenever he can— especially with his peers. Though he was harassed and challenged for his decision to stop consuming turtles, he stayed firm in his decision and tried to convince others to follow. Eventually, some of his peers listened and wanted to become turtle monitors themselves.
“They know me, and they see the change and they wonder about it, so I work hard to impress upon them the importance of turtles, not just as a source of food, but also the role it plays in the sea.”
“We wouldn’t enjoy a lot of the other fishes that we earn an income from if we didn’t have turtles,” he added. “Now like me they want to be turtle friends for life.”
WWF at work for marine turtles
Marine turtles continue to be harvested unsustainably both for human consumption and trade of their parts. Tens of thousands of marine turtles are lost this way every year, devastating populations of already endangered green turtles and hawksbills.
WWF works with local communities to reduce turtle harvesting and egg collection. Partly as a result of WWF’s awareness campaigns, policy development, and community initiatives, Fiji’s Department of Fisheries has declared additional protection for turtles. Hunting permits will no longer be issued between the months of November and February for a period of ten years.