Guidelines for turtle conservation in Fiji including our Pacific Island neighbours are about to get even more precise.
Mamanuca Environment Society-passionately committed to protecting the stunning marine and terrestrial environment of the Mamanuca Islands in Fiji, has set Friday June 29, 2012 as the launch date of its four years, tried and tested "Mamanuca Sea Turtle Conservation" project.
Initially started in 2006 with Institute of Marine Research (IMR-USP) through an Australian Grant to do research on sea turtles in the Mamanucas, the mission was further boosted through the UNDP Global Environment Facility (GEF ) Small Grant programme of USD$50,000 in 2008.
Over the years, the society toiled tirelessly to promote, educate and assist villagers, communities and resorts in the Mamanuca region on why turtles have to be saved.
Looking back, MES Project Manager Betani Salusalu said even though the journey was not easy, the outcomes are priceless.
Mr Salusalu said the launch the Turtle Project outcomes 'will reflect the future of Turtle Conservation in the Mamanucas, Fiji Islands and through the Pacific Islands'.
"This is a Model project for Fiji and some of the documents coming out of this project are first for the Fiji Islands and the Pacific like the Best Practices Guideline and Policy. The present of the Government Department Representatives and other stakeholders gives good mileage toward this project."
"MES will now be looking at the phase of implementation to these outcomes to all stakeholders. These will means working closely with the Government Department, private sectors and environmental bodies and communities in Fiji and within the Pacific Islands.
"Producing this kind of documents is good but the bottom line is how we can effectively implement it to become more realistic on the ground. To be part of our culture, tradition and our daily cores," says Mr Salusalu who was there in the fore for the past four years.
He further state that turtle conservation was already implemented on most resorts long before MES stepped in.
"In some way it makes our work easier. There was some intiatives on the ground before the project started in 2008. We stepped in and began to engage stakeholders like communities, Resorts and Schools to be able to justify and learn from the need to enhance this project and its implementation.
The first turtle pond was set up at Treasure Island Resort, than Bounty Island Resort before it spread to Vomo and Mana Island Resort.
Three of the world's seven species of sea turtles nest in Fiji- the green (Chelonia mydas, Vonu Dina), hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricate, Taku), and leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea,vonudakulaca, tutuwalu).
Nesting occurs between November and February. Loggerhead turtle are also found in most islands but not known to nest in Fiji.
All marine turtle species are experiencing serious threats to their survival. Marine turtles are recognised internationally as species of conservation concern as in Fiji, with a survival rate of 1 in every 1000.
Turtles start life on a beach as a hatchling, measuring no more than the length of a ring finger.
During the night in what is known as the "hatchling frenzy", the individuals clamber over each other to reach the surface of their nest and rush toward the sea using the horizon's light as a cue.
At this point they encounter one of the many challenges to their survival, natural predators like crabs, ants and birds. Another encounter is the confusion from artificial lights emanating from roads or buildings which they mistake for the horizon and the water's edge.
Hatchlings that make it to the surf line keep crawling until an undertow sweeps them out into deeper water where they then set a course for the open ocean for a 96 hour non swim. Once they are in the open ocean young marine turtles then depend on ocean currents to freely drift and feed until they are a size of dinner plate at which time they tend to settle at inshore feeding grounds.
Marine turtles grow slowly and take between 30 to 45 years to reach sexual maturity. They live for years in the one place before they are ready to make the long breeding migration of up to 3000 kilometres from the feeding grounds to nesting beaches.
When breeding, nesting females return to the same area thought to be in the region of their birth. As hatchlings they become imprinted to the earth's magnetic field and possibly the smell of the waters adjacent to the nesting beach which allow them to successfully complete their migration.
Courtship and mating take place in shallow waters near the nesting beach. Females often mate with more than one male. After mating the males return to the feeding grounds.
Between nesting efforts, female turtles gather adjacent to the nesting beaches. They return to the same beach to lay consecutive clutches. A female green turtle usually lays six clutches of eggs at two weekly intervals, with each clutch containing about 100 white, spherical, "ping-pong" ball sized eggs.
After laying its eggs, the turtle then fills the egg chamber with sand using the hind flippers and then fills the body pit using all four flippers before crawling back to sea. And then it is another wait before the next generation of hatchlings run down to the beachfront for another whole new cycle of life.