Hawksbill sea turtle – photo by Curtis Geary

About Hawaiʻi’s Hawksbill Sea Turtles

In ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian language) there are two names for hawksbill sea turtles:  honuʻea and ʻea. Hawaiian hawksbill turtles nest in the main Hawaiian islands, predominately on the Big Island of Hawai‘i. However, a few hawksbills and green sea turtles also nest on Maui almost every  year. Due to their rarity, hawksbills are a primary subject for HWF’s research and conservation efforts.

In 1993 and 1996, two egg-laden hawksbills and numerous hatchlings were killed by cars while trying to cross North Kihei Road from the adjacent nesting beach. HWF launched its Hawksbill Recovery Project in 1996 in partnership with USFWS. Volunteers patrolled the beaches nightly, and for the next 18 years, constructed and/or repaired a dune fence to help keep turtles off the road and to support the recovery of the eroded dune habitat. Thus began the first systematic monitoring and research of this species on Maui. Since then, we have learned much about hawksbills’ nesting, hatching and foraging behaviors.

HWF recommends staying 15 feet (5 meters) away from hawksbills and avoid blocking 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 by being respectful of these animals’ survival needs.


How HWF works to help hawksbill sea turtles

Conducts hawksbill sea turtle research and monitoring

In collaboration with state and federal agencies under endangered species research permits, HWF conducts research on and protects nesting hawksbill sea turtles and their hatchlings. HWF has helped to restore hawksbill nesting habitats through conservation efforts and a public awareness campaign. HWF coordinates a volunteer beach watch program called “The Dawn Patrol”, and tags and tracks nesting female turtles by radio and satellite. During nesting season, HWF volunteers spend all night and day monitoring nests for weeks at a time to ensure emerging hatchlings reach the ocean safely. HWF also leads beach cleanups to remove rubbish and invasive dune vegetation.


Collects hawksbill sightings information and pictures

Have you been lucky enough to see a rare hawksbill while snorkeling or diving? HWF collaborates with a statewide Hawksbill Research Network (coordinated by National Marine Fisheries Service) to assist in monitoring and tracking hawksbill sea turtles in Hawaiʻi. In 2000, Hawaiian Hawksbill Conservation’s Cheryl King started the statewide in-water photo-ID catalog, which provides valuable distribution and abundance information on this species. HWF has supported this effort since that time by collecting pictures and observational data, and coordinating the database through 2015. This program is now managed and curated by Hawaiian Hawksbill Conservation.

Please send us photos or information (turtle’s location, habitat, depth, and behavior), or send them directly to HIhawksbills.org. As of December 2020, Cheryl has identified 255 unique individual hawksbills:


Responds to turtles in trouble

It can be deadly when sea turtles get hooked or entangled in fishing line. In fact, it is the leading cause of death in green sea turtles in Hawaiʻi.  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 taut 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).

On Maui, HWF collaborates with MOC Marine Institute to document and respond to these unfortunate incidences. 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 the information (turtle’s location, hook or line description, size of turtle, behavior, and any pictures) to MOC Marine Institute.

Responds to stranded sea turtles

Find a stranded or entangled sea turtle on Maui?  There is a response team that can help. HWF works in collaboration with federal and state wildlife agencies and MOC Marine Institute to help sick or injured sea turtles that wash up on shore. Just because a sea turtle is on the beach does not mean it is in trouble.  Many green turtles are simply basking and need no help from us, in fact, they should be left alone and given at least 15 feet (5m) of space. When in doubt, take a photo from the recommended distance, and send it to us or to MOC Marine Institute

Emergency Contact:

Marine wildlife emergencies: NOAA Marine Animal Line @ (888) 256-9840 (statewide), MOC Marine Institute at (808) 286-2549 (Maui only).
Report any sea turtle harassment or illegal activities to Hawaii’s Department of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (808) 643-3567.

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 and disorients nesting females from coming ashore to nest, and distracts hatchlings when they are navigating to the sea. This is a serious problem, but can be corrected quite easily and inexpensively.

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.


Hawksbill Sea Turtles Hatching – Mass Emergence – 185 Turtles! Maui, Hawaiʻi 8/15/16
Video by Aimee Lemieux in association with Hawaiʻi Wildlife Fund Hawksbill Turtle Recovery Team

Hawksbill Adult and Juvenile Sea Turtles