Turtles are the living fossils of this modern era. They first appeared about 215 million years ago, making them one of the oldest reptile groups. The earliest known sea turtle fossils are about 150 million years old. The waters of Fiji boast 5 of the 7 living species of sea turtles: green, hawksbill, leatherback, loggerhead, and olive ridley. The first 3 of these species also nest in Fiji from October to April every year. The sandy beach on Namenalala Island and other sandy beaches along the Kubulau coastline are nesting sites for the more commonly sighted green and hawksbill turtles.
Scientific names: Chelonia mydas
Fijian name: Vonu Dina
The green turtle is the most commonly encountered marine turtle in Fiji, often seen foraging on seagrass beds or nesting on sandy beaches. The name does not describe its shell colour, but rather its green fat, which is prized for its taste. A green turtle’s shell can grow up to 1.2 m, and a mature turtle can weigh up to 130 kg. Males have a long grasping tail that extends well beyond the shell edge, whereas the tails of females usually do not pass the shell margin. Female turtles do not start to reproduce until they reach around 30 years of age, and they only nest every 2 to 3 years. One female green turtle can lay up to seven clutches of eggs per nesting season, with 100 eggs per clutch. Adult green turtles feed during the day in shallow waters on sea grasses, plankton, and fish eggs floating in the sea; young turtles are carnivorous.
Scientific names: Eretmochelys imbricata
Fijian name: Vonu Taku
Another common turtle species in Fiji waters, hawksbill turtles are primarily carnivorous, feeding on a variety of marine animals such as fish, crabs, molluscs, certain species of sponges, and jellyfish. They use their parrot-like beak to pick encrusting animals off the substrate. They usually feed in the early morning or late afternoon, and at other times of the day they are often seen resting either on the reef or at the surface. The hawksbill turtle’s shell can grow up to 1.1 m long, and mature animals reach 80 kg in weight.
Nesting seasons for hawksbills occur every 2 to 3 years. Hawksbills nest at least 4 times per breeding season, with 15 to 20 days between each nesting effort. The 150 or so eggs laid per clutch will hatch at night or in the early morning. Hawksbill turtles can live more than a hundred years, and reach maturity at a minimum age of 30 years in the Indo-Pacific.
Threats and Actions
Unfortunately, human impacts threaten marine turtles at all life stages. On land, eggs are harvested, nest sites are degraded, and adults and juveniles are hunted. At sea, their foraging grounds are damaged, adults and juveniles drown when they become entangled in marine fishing gear, and they frequently choke on plastics—plastic bags resemble their jellyfish prey. Green turtles are listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List and are protected under CITES Appendix I. Hawksbill turtles are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, and like green turtles, are included on CITES Appendix I. The Department of Fisheries has enacted a 10-year moratorium on harvesting all turtle species in Fiji. WCS-Fiji records all sightings of turtles both on and off transect during our coral reef assessments. We also encourage community-based actions for turtle conservation during construction of local ecosystem-based management plans.