By Serafina Silaitoga
The World Wide Fund for Nature is concerned at the alleged slaughter of 13 turtles on an island in the north.
WWF marine species co-ordinator Thomas Tui confirmed they received a report from one of their turtle monitors in Vanua Levu.
Mr Tui said the monitor informed WWF he observed the alleged harvesting of 13 turtles by a group of islanders.
"However, we are waiting for verification from the Department of Fisheries. Our monitor has lodged a report with the Department of Fisheries in Labasa," he said.
"We understand no permission was given. The nesting period for all species of turtles run from September to May each year and this is a strictly no-take period as outlined in The Fisheries Act Cap 158 and its amendment regulation (Protection of Turtles Regulation). From June to August, a permit maybe acquired through the Ministry of Fisheries for turtle harvesting strictly for significant traditional events like the installation of district or paramount chief or the death of a chief," he said.
But Mr Tui said anyone caught breaching the law was liable to either pay a fine of not more than $500 or three months imprisonment or both.
Divisional fisheries officer northern Gerald Billings could not be reached for a comment and efforts to get comments from Director Fisheries Sanaila Naqali proved futile.
Mr Tui said the WWF South Pacific program office together with communities in Vanua Levu set up the Dau Ni Vonu (DnV) network in 2008 to help protect turtles through a proactive approach of awareness.
"Eighteen volunteers are part of the DnV and operate from various districts like Nadogo, Macuata in Macuata Province and Vuya district in Bua province," he said.
He said the set-up of the network was aligned to the Fiji National Sea Turtle Recovery and the Turtle Moratorium.
"Sea turtles need our joint efforts for their protection
"They play an important role within our ecosystem. They have swum our oceans for thousands of years. Their numbers have been declining and if we don't work together to protect them our descendants may never set eyes on a turtle again.
"Government together with partners put together the Fiji National Sea Turtle Recovery Plan and imposed the Turtle Moratorium recoginising the importance of turtles.
"But these efforts may come to nothing without the support of communities. Turtles are our heritage and we must all work together to protect them."