20 April 2013
Patricia Mallam WWF South Pacific Communications Manager brought her lovely 9 year old daughter Irris to rendezvous with us on Yadua Island – we, coming from Macuata Province and they, coming from Suva. They were joined by Pita Qarau, Turtle Monitor from Yadua Village in Suva and they all took the ferry from Viti Levu to Vanua Levu and onwards to Yadua Island – first by land transport and then a long, wet and bumpy ride on an open boat in open seas to reach the island. It was an early, far and wild journey for young Irris and Pat, but one this mother and daughter duo were not about to pass up – an experience to the great Fijian outdoors and the valuable conservation work in the field.
Pita brought us out to survey the island. The Great Sea Reef was far away north of the island. With limited precious fuel, we did not attempt to venture that far away. Instead, we motored around the island meeting beche de mer fishermen and one of the neighbourhood hawksbill turtles. Unknowing to his passengers, Pita spotted a big turtle in the shallow waters and made a silent signal to our boat captain. All of a sudden, our boatman swerved the boat and started the chase with Pita standing at the bow of the fibreglass boat. I heard a squeal as Irris fell backwards, caught unawares by the sudden boat speed. Pita jumped and caught a big hawksbill turtle.
With a big smile, Pita brought the turtle to us. Nervous but excited, our little passenger Irris met her first turtle in the wild.
Trying not to stress the animal too much, we quickly went ashore to the beach to tag the hawksbill turtle. Pita was equipped with all the turtle tagging paraphernalia – stainless steel tags with corresponding numbers and information.
When all data were encoded on to the turtle monitor’s notebook, it was time to release our hawksbill turtle. Yogi had his underwater camera ready and Irris took it upon herself to see what Yogi saw underwater.
Before we knew what was happening, Irris scrambled to the beach and put on her snorkelling gear. She bade her special friend the hawksbill a goodbye underwater as she swam the short distance she could manage as the turtle used his strong flippers to swim away from us.
I took the chance to snorkel with Irris all along the shallow waters, finding all sorts of treasures like a shrimp and gobie keeping house together, a school of daniba baitfish flashing silver all around us. I had a lovely time showing Irris around.
We found remnants of a hawksbill turtle shell on our walks along the Yadua beach. It was beautiful and when illuminated by light clearly shows why this shell is much coveted for turtle shell products. This critically endangered animal is so much more beautiful alive!
And so ends our trip with Irris. Her eyes and ears observed all our movements and conversations and while we were photographing Yadua villagers slaughter and chop up a pig for the village funeral feast, we told her to stay away as we were taking some “pig” tures. Our sense of humour was not wasted on Irris!