4 – 6 April 2013
Emosi Time, son of Kavewa Village chief is known as a Dau ni Vonu or Turtle Monitor. Emosi used to be a turtle hunter, catching turtles for turtle meat offered in traditional Fijian celebrations. Since 2011, Emosi has turned from the dark side and is now a guardian of turtles. Lifting text from the WWF South Pacific website: “The Dau ni Vonu, or Turtle Monitors, are members of 10 local community field sites where turtles are under threat, often remote islands. It was not so long ago in Fiji that eating turtle meat was commonplace; many people grew up on turtle meat. Today WWF’s efforts and the Turtle Moratorium banning the harvesting of turtles is beginning to change this. And an important way of changing behaviour, especially on remote islands, is through the Dau ni Vonu. Often former turtle-hunters themselves, the Dau ni Vonu are the best there are at finding feeding adults, nesters and eggs.”
Emosi brought us to Katawaqa Island right across his island Kavewa where everybody says there are absolutely no mosquitos! While we were still getting our camera gear in order and getting out of the boat, Emosi was off finding fresh turtle tracks. He found a fresh nest below the high tide water mark and carefully dug it out to relocate the eggs to higher ground to prevent them from drowning. His son Kaitu and nephew Tuwa were there to listen to him explain the value of caring for turtles from when the mothers lay their eggs, to the hatchlings swimming back to sea – the whole cycle of a turtle’s life.
On another day, with the help of his cousin Lemani Tomu, we went out to sea to look for turtles in Katawaqa Island. This was one of the Turtle Monitor’s most important functions, that of monitoring turtles that nest or forage within their traditional fishing grounds by catching, tagging and releasing the turtle and getting valuable information in the process. Our designated jumper was Lemani and off we went to Katawaqa Island once more. In less than half an hour, Lemani saw a critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle and gave directions to boat driver Emosi where the turtle was heading. With adrenalin pumping, the chase was on and Emosi accelerated the boat in full speed. This was Patricia Mallam’s first turtle rodeo experience which proved to be quite a highlight of our expedition!
It was very rewarding to see Patricia get her first hand experience with the turtle monitoring work in the field. She got organised once we reached the beach of Kavewa Island when Emosi brought out the whole turtle tagging paraphernalia – stainless steel tags with corresponding numbers and information. These are flipper tags clipped onto the turtle’s flippers. They are clearly visible and contains a unique serial number and the name and address of the organization applying the tags.
Sea turtles are tagged for many reasons. Flipper tags are used to identify individual turtles which help researchers learn things like nesting site fidelity, the number of nests laid during a nesting season, the number of years between nesting seasons, and growth rates. In addition, these tags can be used to identify where a recaptured or stranded turtle was originally tagged, which can be used to establish possible migration pathways.