By Michael Field
A seaturtle feast for Tonga's Methodist ministers has sparked a clash with a Kiwi woman, who has made a life's work out of saving the endangered reptiles.
Jo Kupu, known in Tonga as the "turtle lady", said something good might actually come out of the incident, which saw 10 turtles eaten.
Originally from Mt Cook Village, Kupu has rescued around 600 turtles in the last decade, buying them at the Nuku'alofa market and releasing them.
Green turtles are endangered, although there is evidence they are making a comeback in the South Pacific.
But, for the fishermen of Ha'apai, when the arrival of mating turtles coincided with the Free Wesleyan Church annual conference in Nuku'alofa, it was an opportunity too good to miss.
Fourteen were netted alive and shipped to Nuku'alofa, to lie in the sun on their backs awaiting their fate.
"They suffocate when they are upside down, they choke and drown on their own saliva," Kupu said.
She and husband Levini heard about the turtles but, by the time they got to the market, 10 had gone to the Methodists. The remaining four were rescued, but one, thought to be about 150 years old – nearly as old as Methodism in Tonga – died soon after it was returned to the sea.
"All the years I've been involved buying turtles and releasing them, we've never seen turtles that big, and so many," Kupu said. More....