Turtles, iconic but going extinct

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There are now 41,415 species on the IUCN (The World Conservation Union) Red List and 16,306 of them are threatened with extinction, up from 16,118 last year.

The total number of extinct species has reached 785 and a further 65 are only found in captivity or in cultivation.

One in four mammals, one in eight birds, one third of all amphibians and 70 per cent of the world’s assessed plants on the 2007 IUCN Red List are in jeopardy.

The slaughter of turtles in Fiji is happening at an unabated rate as there is no real enforcement or action by the authorities.

Furthermore, who in the villages will report their relatives or friends for killing these turtles because this is deemed even worse than killing the turtles?

I recently heard someone in Fiji say “why should we care, they are just turtles and besides this is our customary right?”

Moreover, Joketani Cokanasiga, the interim Fisheries Minister, was quoted as saying, “if it is their traditional fishing grounds, they can harvest them”.

He also said “it is a very sensitive matter and if anything harsh is done, they might just go around and cancel the moratorium.”

With these few words, the interim Minister has virtually said people can continue killing turtles and that the turtle moratorium is worthless because if anyone is punished, then they will then take the law into their own hands.

This is a worrying response from a person that is supposed to uphold the law and prevent the overexploitation of our fisheries.

The indifference shown by the authorities will spell the end for these animals if they do not act on this issue.

However, the minister is right about one thing this is a sensitive issue.

The mass killing of any animal for whatever reason is very sensitive and not for the reasons he thinks.

Many people around the world spend a considerable amount of money, effort, and time in conserving threatened species like turtles and this action was a huge blow to marine conservation efforts around the world.

In Hawaii, if observers on the fishing boats find more than three turtles in their nets in a season they can close the whole fishing industry down.

Some countries (and people) take the conservation of turtles seriously and it is a pity that Fiji does not.

Turtles are becoming ever increasingly rare due to overharvesting by people consuming their eggs and/or through eating them as juveniles and adults.

Traditionally, turtles were only ever eaten on ceremonial occasions.

In the past, turtles were relatively common and people used traditional methods to harvest them so the numbers consumed were relatively low.

However, this is no longer true as anyone with a boat and an outboard motor can catch a turtle and unfortunately this is what is happening all over Fiji.

The “rules” are not the same as before. If they harvested the turtles using traditional methods, then I think they could use the argument that this is a customary right but now that they have modern equipment to do this, this is not tradition, this is exploitation.

Let’s face it, these turtles would not have been slaughtered like this had it not been for this church conference.

One of the problems many parishioners face is that feel obliged to contribute to the church and if they cannot give any money (as many people cannot), then they will exploit their natural resources to “impress their guests”.

I thought that the church was a responsible organisation interested in the welfare of all God’s creatures but clearly it is not.

Instead of promoting such activities the church should be actively campaigning against such barbarism.