Marine turtles play a major role in the local village community as a totem and provide an environmental marketing tool with which resorts attract tourists. However, they are being over exploited for traditional use in the Mamanuca Group and the Fiji Islands in general.
The UNDP-GEF-funded Mamanuca Sea Turtle Conservation Project is aimed at the protection of turtle populations in the Mamanuca and Malolo region through the protection of their habitat in both nesting and feeding areas. This project targets two different stakeholders- the tourism operators (resorts) and the local community of four villages. The first phase of the turtle conservation project from 2008- 2011 resulted in active participation of the targeted stakeholders through promoting community and resort education awareness, establishing protocol/ policy to monitor breeding and foraging of marine turtles, integrating biological research components at community and resort level and establishing standardized turtle conservation guidelines on best practices for resorts.
The Best Practices Policy and Guidelines and Community Based Management Plan documents tie tourism stakeholders and communities in the Mamanuca region to existing policies in accordance with the current Turtle Moratorium under the Fisheries Act and the Endangered Species Act. The 2013 Turtle Research and Monitoring Database Systems (TRED) report prepared by the South Pacific Regional Environmental Program (SPREP) showed that 54.8% of the total population of turtle recorded in Fiji was from Mamanuca and Malolo Region (Fiji TRED Report: 2013) and provided evidence that these turtles are originally from Fiji. The Mamanuca Environment Society database showed that 22 turtles tagged and released in the last two years and 99 hatchling recovered and released.
A total of 12 Hawksbill turtles were placed in the Mana Island Resort turtle pond with only 5 left to be tagged and released into the wild. The second phase of the Mamanuca Sea Turtle Conservation Project (2014- 2016) is a direct indication of the first phase and is an implementation stage in recovering the sea turtle population with full support of the Vanua Lawa and the tourist operators in the region. The integration of scientific research and traditional knowledge will allow the targeted stakeholders to better understand and signify the traditional value of marine turtles to the Fijian culture.
The outcomes of this sea turtles conservation project will improve communication strategies and provide database for the recovered turtle population as they continue support the protection of nesting beaches and feeding sites. According to the Project Manager, one of the major outcome of this Project phase is to share success stories of the project and turtle data that will influence policy makers in Government departments and highlight significance of the Mamanuca sea turtles conservation initiatives with those stakeholders doing similar efforts in other regions in Fiji and in the Pacific as a whole.