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NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, April 14) – Turtle meat as a delicacy is becoming popular again, not only on the outer islands of Tonga but also on the main island of Tongatapu.

A boatload of sea turtles was photographed last week at Ha'afeva, Ha'apai, as they were being loaded onto the MV Pulupaki for shipment to consumers in Ma'ufanga and Puke on Tongatapu.

The killing of turtles was banned in Tonga for a number of years, but an official of the Ministry of Fisheries said yesterday that recently the ban had been lifted, "but only between March and August".

He said that the one strict condition that is enforced by the Ministry of Fisheries is that the width of the turtle shell should not be less than 45 cm.

Marine conservationists have expressed concern about Tonga's lost turtle populations in recent years.

Marine Biologist, Jenny Fox, pointed out in 2000 that turtles in Vava'u were becoming rare because the white sands favoured the hatching of males, and a male cannot reproduce until it is 30 to 50 years old.

Turtles used to be plentiful in Tonga forty years ago, when people ate turtle eggs and meat, and made handicrafts out of their shells.

April 14, 2005

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