A major research to gather baseline data for the first time from turtle nesting areas along the Great Sea Reef in Vanua Levu, an area of global biological significance commenced this week (January 13).
The research funded by WWF South Pacific’s Marine Species Program targets nesting sites on Yaqaga, Yadua and Galoa island in Bua province and Kia, Mali and Kavewa islands in Macuata.
In undertaking this research expedition, WWF South Pacific has partnered with both the Fiji National University and University of the South Pacific.
Marine science students from both universities form the research teams that are now located at the various nesting sites, three researchers at each site, guided and assisted by turtle monitors or Dau Ni Vonu to gather data.
Marine Species Coordinator Laitia Tamata emphasised these baseline data will provide statistical evidence and strengthen advocacy for turtle protection.
“The expedition will strengthen data collection and motivate a Dau Ni Vonu as the research students will be helping him perform beach surveys over a month,” Tamata said.
“Lessons in turtle conservation backed up with statistical evidence will be shared with the Fiji Sea Turtle Steering Committee to inform the formulation of policies and laws for turtle protection and similarly assist Pacific Island countries pursue sea turtle protection.”
The type of data being collected include those relating to nesting beach surveys and catch per unit effort.
Nesting beach surveys involves gathering information like the name of the beach, the number of patrols, number of nests, number of crawls, number of successful and unsuccessful hatchings, number of dead hatchlings and the number of turtles sighted.
The expedition has been timed to coincide with the turtle nesting season that commenced in September 2013 to last until April 2014, to allow for optimum data collection.
The Great Sea Reef is the third largest barrier reef system in the Southern Hemisphere where a spike in turtle foraging and nesting have been observed since the institution of the Dau Ni Vonu or turtle monitoring program in 2010.
The increase also corresponds to increasing awareness and calls for sea turtle protection.
Tamata said a Dau Ni Vonu or turtle monitor is usually responsible for nesting beach surveys but competing communal and familial obligations means that surveys may not happen regularly or may not be of good quality.
Tamata said the expedition has the added advantage of stimulating more awareness about sea turtle conservation with tertiary students.
“We have focused on carrying out awareness with communities, the Government through the Fiji Sea Turtle Recovery Plan and with primary and secondary schools students through the turtle road show while this is the way we reach out to the tertiary level students.”