About Hawaiʻi’s Sea Turtles
Hawaiʻi is the home to five species of sea turtles. Olive ridleys, loggerheads and leatherbacks are usually only encountered in deep offshore waters, and hawksbills are so few in number (<100 nesting females exist in the Main Hawaiian Islands) that they are rarely seen by most people. But it’s common for snorkelers and divers on all the islands to see the honu (green sea turtle) in near shore waters. 96% of Hawaiʻi’s green sea turtles nest in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, the largest fully protected conservation area under the U.S. flag.
Unfortunately, honu (green turtles) are impacted by near shore fisheries interactions, and are suffering from a disease called fibropapillomatosis. This herpes-family virus causes the growth of white to blackish, cauliflower-like tumors. These grow on the soft tissues of the turtle’s body, internally and externally, and inhibit foraging, breathing, mobility and digestion. It is unclear what causes this disease, but research is ongoing worldwide to find a cure.
How Hawaiʻi Wildlife Fund works to help Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles
Educates the community and monitors basking turtles
“Basking” (resting) behavior is becoming more common all around Hawai‘i and is an exciting way to watch green sea turtles, but it is important that people or dogs don’t scare the turtles back into the ocean. The presence of people doesn’t allow for turtles to rest (imagine if someone was standing next to you when you were trying to sleep!).
HWF recommends staying 15 feet (5 meters) away and don’t block their access either to or from the ocean. Please avoid making loud noises and please do not use flash photography. Mahalo for sharing the beach and being respectful of the basking turtles’ need for undisturbed space.
Responds to turtles in trouble
It can be deadly when sea turtles get hooked or entangled in fishing line. These interactions can cause starvation (if the hook doesn’t allow the turtle to close its mouth), limb amputation (if the line gets wrapped so taught that it cuts through the skin and bone) or drowning (if the line or hook gets caught on the reef and prevents the turtle from surfacing to breathe).
Along with NOAA, HWF is documenting these incidences to quantify this problem which will hopefully lead to solutions. Assisting turtles in these situations isn’t easy or safe, so we advise that you do not attempt a rescue yourself. SAFETY FIRST! Please send us the information (turtle’s location, hook or line description, size of turtle, behavior, and any pictures).
HWF accesses expert NOAA veterinary advice on these situations, as we certainly don’t want to do more harm than good. If safe conditions allow it, as “good Samaritans” we can search for the turtle. Remember, turtles as endangered species are under a set of laws all their own and harassment is illegal.
Responds to stranded sea turtles
HWF works in collaboration with federal wildlife agencies and Maui Ocean Center Marine Institute to help sick or injured sea turtles that wash up on shore. If you find a stranded or entangled sea turtle on Maui, there is a response team that can help.
Maui Ocean Center Marine Institute at 808-286-2549.
Any sea turtle harassment or illegal activities should be reported to Hawaii’s Department of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (808) 984-8110.
Reduces coastal lighting on nesting beaches
In cooperation with resorts and private residences, lighting fixtures can be retro-fitted to become “turtle safe”. Coastal lighting deters nesting females from coming ashore to nest, and disorients hatchlings when they are navigating to the sea. This is a serious problem, but can be corrected quite easily and inexpensively. The Leilani Kai Resort and the Kealia Resort are great examples of successful projects.
Follow these Coastal Lighting Guidelines:
- Keep outdoor beachfront lighting turned off during the nesting and hatching season May-December in Hawaiʻi .
- Place security lighting on motion sensor switches to keep lighting off when not needed.
- Draw curtains soon after dark or apply dark window tinting to windows visible from the beach.
- If lights must be used, reduce lights pointing directly onto beaches and near shore waters by lowering, shielding, recessing and/or redirecting light sources.
- Minimize the number and wattage of outdoor lights.
- Replace existing lights with those that emit less detrimental lights to sea turtles. The best lights to use are low pressure sodium vapor lamps which emit a pure yellow light. Yellow incandescent light bulbs, commonly called “bug lights”, are also preferable if they are kept at low wattage.
- AVOID: fluorescent, mercury vapor, high-pressure sodium vapor, metal halide and white incandescent lighting.
HWF TURTLE FRIENDLY COASTAL LIGHTING BROCHURE (PDF 1 MB)
BEACH LIGHTING TECHNICAL REPORT (PDF 214 MB)