History oF Turtle Island
Turtle Island’s Owner and Managing Director, Richard Evanson, earned his Engineering Degree from University of Washington, Seattle in 1957 and an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1962. He was an entrepreneur on the fast track to success, and made his fortune in cable television. By 1972, he was burnt out and found a welcome escape in the Fiji Islands. Richard purchased Nanuya Levu, a 500-acre barren, uninhabited island in the Yasawa Islands where he arrived with little more than a generator, refrigerator, and tent.The island had been completely overrun by wild goats, and Richard made it his life work to rejuvenate the land and build himself a new home. In order to reverse the damage inflicted by the wild goats, Richard employed a team of local villagers to plant hundreds and thousands of trees. Richard then renamed his property “Turtle Island.”
In the late 1970s, film producers were searching the world for the perfect location to remake the “Blue Lagoon”, starring Brooke Shields. Early in that search, they came to speak with Richard at Turtle Island. He subsequently found that the reason they knew about the suitability of Turtle Island for the movie was that the 1949 version of the “Blue Lagoon”, starring Jean Simmons and Donald Houston was also shot on Turtle Island.
Richard negotiated an arrangement with Columbia Pictures, and shooting commenced in 1978. When the project finished, and the stars, film crew and extras had left, Richard realised how much he enjoyed having guests on the Island, to appreciate its beauty as much as he did. He then decided to open the Resort to take guests in 1980. Since opening, the development of the ‘bures’ (cottages) and other extensive guest facilities has been ongoing and profound. However, at the same time, Richard has respected the integrity of the Island’s biodiversity by limiting the number of guests to a minimum.
Early on in his stewardship of Turtle Island, Richard committed to a quadruple bottom line decision making process in everything he did. All development needed to make financial sense, have environmental integrity, benefit the local people and celebrate the heritage and culture of the place.
He embraced the notion of working with local communities, to develop sustainable tourism projects, and this work continues. His vision for the region has now enabled the development of many small, locally owned backpacker and other resorts, providing much needed jobs and opportunities for local villagers.
Turtle Island employs over 120 Fijian staff, many of whom are from the seven local villages. A number of other projects have been integral on the Island, to making Turtle Island one of the world’s leading sustainable tourism destinations.
- More than 500,000 trees have been planted over 30 years, developing lush rain forests and stabilizing hillsides
- Environmental audits conducted every five years by independent audit agencies to benchmark environmental integrity
- Green Globe 21 Benchmark confirming best environmental practices
- Preservation of coastal mangroves to continue to provide reef protection from runoff;
- Introduction of freshwater ponds and wetlands to encourage indigenous bird life
- Establishment of four acre irrigated fertile vegetable garden and orchard, including hydroponics, to provide fresh fruit and vegetables for guests and staff year round
- Regular dental clinics and medical clinics to treat children and villagers from neighbouring islands
- Installation of impressive solar array of nearly 1000 panels, producing over 90% of the Island’s energy needs
- Turtle capture and release program, playing a role in saving the endangered green and hawksbill turtle
- Carpentry, woodworking and trade workshop on Island, which upskills local villagers to become craftsman, enabling furniture making and bure fitouts
- On site Chapel for staff and guest worship, complete with six spectacular stained glass windows depicting the story of the Yasawas and Turtle Island
- Proactive program of enhancing educational standards and facilities at three local primary schools, to overcome the disadvantage of remoteness
- Establishment of a Secondary School on Island to educate young high school students from the seven local villages. More than 50 students attended the school, at Turtle’s expense over 5 years
This initiative has now morphed into 70 secondary school scholarships annually being provided by Turtle Island for students from each of the seven villages to attend high schools in Nadi and Lautoka.
Richard also founded the YASAWAS Community Foundation in 1992, in order to generate funds for special projects within the local area (Tikina) surrounding Turtle Island. Richard’s initial donation was $50,000, and the Foundation went on to build a significant trust corpus with the help of guests. The funds were subsequently applied to vital village and community projects which were considered to be important by the Trustees, who were the Chiefs of the local villages.
These projects comprised improvements in health, transportation, education and the development of cultural activities amongst the villages.
TURTLE ISLAND VISION
Inspiring passion and creating life changing memories through experiencing our pure and nurturing island home.
TURTLE ISLAND MISSION
Passionately committed to enriching the lives of our guests through staff who feel proud to belong, proactive partnerships with our communities, and by embracing innovation.