Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Turtles and a boy from Nakalo

from w
They have good publicity officers, these greenies who love turtles and good luck to them, getting story after story about conservation and saving the Fiji turtles. Here is another story about a boy from Nakalo village in Macuata. From today's Fiji Times.

The turtle is my friend
Theresa Ralogaivau
Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Josua Muakula is the youngest dau ni vonu in Fiji. Picture: SUPPLIED
AT just 18 years old, Josua Muakula is the youngest dau ni vonu in Fiji. The dau ni vonu or turtle monitor are those few men, just 25 in all, who have taken on the massive challenge of protecting turtles and boosting their numbers, by advocating for sustainable harvesting.

Why would a teenager get so involved in a bid to protect the one creature he has been feeding on for most of his young life?

He answered simply "The turtle is my friend!" It's been around two years since Muakula last gorged on turtle meat.

Transformation hit him like a storm when one day sitting in a turtle monitors' training organised by WWF South Pacific Office at Nakalou village in Macuata, he realised just how defenseless the 'vonu' was.

"This is one animal that doesn't put up a fight, from when we catch it to when we kill it for the pot. It's a sad creature, the way it just quietly waits to die," he said. For a boy who has hunted turtles for game and food, the realisation stirred deep regret in him and he wanted to make a difference for turtles.

"I wanted to stand up for them because I found out how their numbers kept on going down. I know that if we don't do something about it, future generations will never get to see a turtle and knowing the important role the turtle plays in our marine environment helped cement my decision."

On the modest end, Muakula said he has consumed between 70-80 kilogrammes of turtle meat in his life. Growing up at Denimanu village on Yadua island in Bua, his life has been closely intertwined with the sea. Ever since he can remember, he has been out fishing or diving for turtles.

He caught even more when he dropped out of school in Form Four and took up beche-de-mer diving as a career. Muakula said it was always a proud, egoistical moment to walk home with a turtle in tow.

"Everyone on the island loves turtle meat, it's so tasty so if you came with one, then you would truly make people happy because island tradition is such that the meat is shared out equally," he said.

"And all the young boys competed, so if you caught a turtle it was like a stamp of approval for manhood, or you were seen as having the potential of becoming a great diver one day!

"That training changed my life, I saw a turtle cry after that, and the tears moved me. It wanted my protection so I decided to leave behind my once favorite dish."

These days, Muakula actively rallies behind turtles, sharing the turtle gospel wherever and whenever he can especially with his worst critics his peers.

In the first few months of his new journey, they often taunted him, teasing him with mouth watering turtle meat dishes, challenging his knowledge about the decline in numbers of the marine reptile.

"It was hard even to watch them kill one so I just stayed away from where these occurred. But I kept on telling them about the need to protect turtles and eventually some of them started changing too.

"Now several want to sign up as turtle monitors and have decided to also make a stand for turtles. They know me and they see the change and they wonder about it so I work hard to impress upon them the importance of turtles, not just as a source of food, but also the role it plays in the sea.

"We wouldn't enjoy a lot of the other fishes that we earn an income from if we didn't have turtles. We need them so I show them how serious it is by not eating turtle meat and they see I mean business. Now like me they want to be turtle friends for life."

* Theresa Ralogaivau is the communications officer at the WWF South Pacific Program, Suva, Fiji. Email: tralogaivau@wwfpacific.org.fj

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