By Leanne Elliott
The concept of saving sea turtles from slaughter may be a new idea for many Tongans, but when one looks into the serious situation the local turtle population is facing, you can understand the passion and commitment by a concerned group of the community in protecting these amazing creatures.
The numbers of green sea turtles in Tonga have decreased considerably over the past 10 years. Where turtles were more a common occurrence, they are now a rare sighting – which makes for great cause for concern with 15 giant sea turtles killed in Tonga tapu and 7 killed in Vava’u in the past two weeks for the FWC Church conference, according to the fisherman responsible for their capture.
What is the problem?
While turtles have been hunted in Tongan waters for thousands of years, their numbers are decreasing due to increased fishing activitiy, community development in breeding areas on islands, litter and pollution in Tongan waters and weak legislation and regulatory action on the ‘open’ season for catching turtles.
Sea turtles play a vital role in our ocean, being one of the few animals that eat sea grass, which needs to be constantly cut to maintain the health of the sea grass beds. These areas are a vital breeding ground for many species of fish, shellfish and sea cucumbers. Without these healthy sea beds, many marine species would be dramatically effected resulting in a negative impact on the food chain as these species numbers are threatened. With other species playing a key role in the economy, such as cucumber export, it is in the best interest of the fisherman and the nation to protect and conserve these environments to ensure sustainable industry.
Green sea turtles can take up to 50 years to reach sexual maturity, with females only mating every two to four years. More....