20 April 2013

Patricia Mallam WWF South Pacific Communications Manager brought her lovely 9 year old daughter Irris to rendezvous with us on Yadua Island – we, coming from Macuata Province and they, coming from Suva. They were joined by Pita Qarau, Turtle Monitor from Yadua Village in Suva and they all took the ferry from Viti Levu to Vanua Levu and onwards to Yadua Island – first by land transport and then a long, wet and bumpy ride on an open boat in open seas to reach the island. It was an early, far and wild journey for young Irris and Pat, but one this mother and daughter duo were not about to pass up – an experience to the great Fijian outdoors and the valuable conservation work in the field.

Turtle monitor Pita Qarau catches a hawksbill turtle from the shallow waters along the coast of Yadua Island.

Turtle monitor Pita Qarau catches a hawksbill turtle from the shallow waters along the coast of Yadua Island.

Pita brought us out to survey the island. The Great Sea Reef was far away north of the island. With limited precious fuel, we did not attempt to venture that far away. Instead, we motored around the island meeting beche de mer fishermen and one of the neighbourhood hawksbill turtles. Unknowing to his passengers, Pita spotted a big turtle in the shallow waters and made a silent signal to our boat captain. All of a sudden, our boatman swerved the boat and started the chase with Pita standing at the bow of the fibreglass boat. I heard a squeal as Irris fell backwards, caught unawares by the sudden boat speed. Pita jumped and caught a big hawksbill turtle.

Turtle monitor Pita Qarau carries a big hawksbill turtle to show 9 year old Irris and her mom Patricia Mallam of WWF South Pacific.

Turtle monitor Pita Qarau carries a big hawksbill turtle to show 9 year old Irris and her mom Patricia Mallam of WWF South Pacific.

With a big smile, Pita brought the turtle to us. Nervous but excited, our little passenger Irris met her first turtle in the wild.

Irris meets her first turtle and she is ready to help Pita do his turtle monitoring job of tagging and writing all size details about the animal.

Irris meets her first turtle and she is ready to help Pita do his turtle monitoring job of tagging and writing all size details about the animal.

Trying not to stress the animal too much, we quickly went ashore to the beach to tag the hawksbill turtle. Pita was equipped with all the turtle tagging paraphernalia – stainless steel tags with corresponding numbers and information.

Like a pro, Pita tagged the turtle's left flipper with Pat's help while Irris served as the documenting secretary.

Like a pro, Pita tagged the turtle’s left flipper with Pat’s help while Irris served as the documenting secretary.

These are flipper tags clipped onto the turtle’s flippers. They are clearly visible and contain a unique serial number and the name and address of the organisation applying the tags.

These are flipper tags clipped onto the turtle’s flippers. They are clearly visible and contain a unique serial number and the name and address of the organisation applying the tags.

When all data were encoded on to the turtle monitor’s notebook, it was time to release our hawksbill turtle. Yogi had his underwater camera ready and Irris took it upon herself to see what Yogi saw underwater.

Yogi photographing his classic half over, half under shots with Irris watching his every move like a hawk.

Yogi photographing his classic half over, half under shots with Irris watching his every move like a hawk.

Before we knew what was happening, Irris scrambled to the beach and put on her snorkelling gear. She bade her special friend the hawksbill a goodbye underwater as she swam the short distance she could manage as the turtle used his strong flippers to swim away from us.

Valuable observations underwater as Irris swims along with the turtle's release.

Valuable observations underwater as Irris swims along with the turtle’s release.

I took the chance to snorkel with Irris all along the shallow waters, finding all sorts of treasures like a shrimp and gobie keeping house together, a school of daniba baitfish flashing silver all around us. I had a lovely time showing Irris around.

Snorkelling Irris uses a swimming stick so she need not use her fins for propulsion, not stirring up the clear water. Stella shows Irris the magical underwater world in the shallows.

Snorkelling Irris uses a swimming stick so she need not use her fins for propulsion, not stirring up the clear water. Stella shows Irris the magical underwater world in the shallows.

We found remnants of a hawksbill turtle shell on our walks along the Yadua beach. It was beautiful and when illuminated by light clearly shows why this shell is much coveted for turtle shell products. This critically endangered animal is so much more beautiful alive!

Beautiful transparent shell of a hawksbille turtle found by the beach of Yadua Village.

Beautiful transparent shell of a hawksbille turtle found by the beach of Yadua Village.

And so ends our trip with Irris. Her eyes and ears observed all our movements and conversations and while we were photographing Yadua villagers slaughter and chop up a pig for the village funeral feast, we told her to stay away as we were taking some “pig” tures. Our sense of humour was not wasted on Irris!

Smart and beautiful little Irris in her Sunday chamba.

Smart and beautiful little Irris in her Sunday chamba.