Turtles, Turtles and more Turtles

When Will and I first arrived in Fiji in 1998 we would hardly ever see a turtle! indeed so significant it was to see a turtle that I can actually remember seeing my first turtle on Tokoriki Garden. I was so excited that I must have gone through a 1/4 of my tank in an effort to keep up to it. I was entranced, hooked and probably didn’t see another one for several months after.

Fast forward to 2019 and we now see turtles on many of our dive sites. On yesterday’s dive to Monu Patch, I altered my route a bit for a keen photographer and found 5! Tokoriki Island Resort’s home reef ‘Tokoriki Wall’ has a resident population of at least 6.

For a while we thought every turtle we saw was a ‘Hawksbill’ but with familiarity, you learn to distinguish features, and whilst we do see Hawksbill turtles, our most common species is the ‘Green’.

For the last 19 years we have also taken part in the ‘Great Fiji Shark, Turtle and Ray Count’ and statistics support what we already know. We are seeing many more turtles than we ever have done before. So why is that?

Well of course there is no one answer to that question. However here are some ideas.

  • Education. The Mamanuca Environmental Society (MES) whom Tokoriki Island Resort helps to fund, conduct weekly ‘environmental awareness’ classes at the local school in term time. In traditional times turtle meat and eggs were considered a delicacy. This is still the case, but with increasing awareness, there is less demand for this aging culinary tradition.

  • Law. It is now illegal to buy or sell turtle meat, eggs or shell.

  • Employment. With an increase of tourism and resorts, comes an increase of jobs. With an increase of jobs, comes less of a reliance on traditional ‘hunting and gathering’. Like you and I much of the food the working islander now eats, has been bought in a shop.

  • Turtle Heading stations. Many of the sandy atolls in the Mamanuca Islands have Turtle heading stations on them (Mana, Treasure and Tavarua). By taking care of juveniles in ‘controlled tanks’, and releasing the hatchlings into the wild, at a slightly later stage of life, increases the turtle’s chance of survival.

  • Fewer predators. Sharks eat baby/young turtles. Whilst we are seeing an increase of turtles we are sadly seeing a decrease in our shark population. Commercial fishing and shark finning are largely to blame. This is of course a huge concern to the health of the whole reef ecosystem, and is a separate topic that requires it’s own independent discussion.

  • Plenty of Food. Well this certainly is the case around Tokoriki Island. With lagoons packed full of sea grasses, there is plenty for the turtle to eat.

Alex Garland