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Ship Logs

Turtle Patrol on Tern Island
September 12, 2002
Posted by: Kaliko Amona

Moani had to rustle me out of bed this morning. Moani is my co-worker with NOAA's Northwestern Hawaiian Island Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve. Last night we stayed up late watching the stars from the field station's rooftop, 'talking story' with some of the field workers here, and listening to seabirds call out to each other. But today, we couldn't afford to sleep in; we had baby honu (green sea turtles) depending on us.

Turtle tracks.Turtle researchers have estimated that 9 out of every 10 turtles in the entire Hawaiian Archipelago were born and return to French Frigate Shoals to lay their eggs. From the rooftop last night, we could see tracks, the size of 'monster truck' tires, leading from the water to the sands where several turtles had dug their nests. As turtles hatch from their eggs, they use the reflective light from the stars and moon to guide them to the sea edge. Before it got dark we were careful to pull down all the blinds in the old Coast Guard barracks that now serve as the main field camp accommodations, and use as little light inside the building as possible so that the young turtles wouldn't get confused and head away from the water's edge to our front door.

Sometimes, even when the lighting is perfect, baby honu lose their way. On Tern Island, a few may crawl away from the ocean's edge and toward the center of the island. Our mission this morning was to find those turtles and make sure they got down to the water before dying of exposure from the mid-morning sun. We started at one end of the runway that extends about a half-mile through the middle of Tern Island. Nine of us walked abreast with our eyes wide open looking for dark spots on the sandy-colored runway.

Only a few minutes into our hunt, Ann, an educator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Honolulu, found a hatchling that had lost its way. I ran over to see it right away because this was the first time I'd ever seen a young turtle like this. As Ann cradled the tiny honu in the palm of her hand, she shaded it with another. The sun's rays were intense and, together with the hatchling's long journey from the shore, it had exhausted the young honu.

By the time we had swept our eyes over the entire runway our group had found over twenty honu. We walked them down to the beach, some of them in our hands, others in a large bucket, as countless seabirds watched from all around. Once at shore, we placed the turtles on the sand. Before I placed the one I had held onto the ground I whispered a short pep talk, telling her to swim strong and fast and to keep alert to the many dangers she would have to escape on her way to adulthood.

While many of the other honu made it quickly into deeper waters, mine had a difficult time getting through the tiny waves that washed over her. As I watched, I imagined myself on a rough day of surfing, stuck inside on a big set, getting 'pounded' continuously by each wave. Knowing the feeling, I picked 'my' honu up and walked her into calmer waters. There, she first swam down a foot or so, then surfaced a few seconds later for a breath of air. Her first strokes in the cool water refreshed this honu that had been so weary in my hands. A minute after I released my new friend, she was out of sight.

Even though we're just a few days into the expedition, I know that today will be one of my most cherished. I'll always remember the many honu we assisted (over 70 in all that day) and will always wonder if I'll see them again someday at home paddling in Kailua, surfing in town, or diving in the country.

Fly, be free little Honu!

I can't wait for my wake-up call tomorrow morning!

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Talk About It!

Asked by Anela on Sep 4, 2003.
i want to see cool sea animals.

Answered by Andy from NOAA on Oct 14, 2003.

Asked by Dan from University of Hawaii on Oct 14, 2003.

Just testing Mike's latest release of the Q&A facility.

If you do not yet have a password for logging in to the admin site (link will be listed below), then please let me know.


Answered by Dan from University of Hawaii on Oct 14, 2003.

Questions about sea turtles

Asked by Lisa from F.B.C.S. (school report) on Jan 15, 2004.
My eight yr old little girl is doing a report on sea turtles. We got some great pictures and lots of information. But one question I had was how does the sea turtle protect itself? And what does it look like besides my pictures? How big they get? And what does it eat? She attends the First Baptist Church School and her name is Rachel. She loves sea turtles and any ocean life.

Answered by Paulo from UH on Jan 20, 2004.
We are glad to hear that you were able to get lots of information on sea turtles. Sea turtles protect themselves several ways- many have a hard shell that covers most of their vital organs. They are excellent swimmers, and they have a powerful beak that they can use in self defense (they have been observed biting an attacking shark’s sensitive gills). But sea turtles are a varied bunch- they can go from the small Olive ridley to the giant Leatherback, and their appearance, diet and habits changes from one to the other. The most abundant one in Hawaii is the Green sea turtle, or honu. They can weight up to 400 pounds, and eat mostly seaweed and sea jelly, and can be recognized by their brown-green color and smooth carapace (shell). Good luck with her report!

The little honu

Asked by kristy on Jan 7, 2005.
Where can i find the baby turtle?

Answered by Paulo from UH on Feb 6, 2005.
Dear Kristy,

Finding “baby” honu is not an easy task. After hatching at night, they head out to the ocean and swim far from the shore. They will stay in these deeper waters for at least the next year. So it would be very difficult to see them at this stage. But once they grow up a little in the ocean, they come to the coastal areas where they find seaweed, their main source of food at that stage. Because of the effective protection they have been given by state and federal laws, it is not unusual to spot sea turtles among the reefs in Hawaii- just look for areas where seaweed grows, and you might be able to see them.

But keep in mind, of course, that sea turtles are protected species! We should always watch them from a distance, and never try to touch them or disturb them- it is best to stay still, and observe them quietly. If you do this, you will see their natural behavior, which is always fascinating.



Sea turtles protecting themselves

Asked by Sarah on Apr 30, 2005.
What do sea turtles do to protect themselves and can you make it fast it's for a project. Thank you!

Answered by Paulo from University of Hawaii on Apr 30, 2005.
Dear Sarah,

Sea turtles have many ways to protect themselves- the most obvious one is their shell, which protects many of their vital organs. But, unlike their land counterparts, they cannot completely retract their limbs. To compensate for that, they are also be surprisingly fast, and can out-swim predators. As a last resort, sea turtles can counter attack- some have even been seen attacking sharks to defend themselves!

Good luck with your project.

Who eats green sea turtles?

Asked by barry on Mar 29, 2006.
what animal eats green sea turtles?

Answered by Paulo from University of Hawaii on Mar 29, 2006.
Green sea turtles, also known as honu in Hawaii, have different predators, depending on their size: newly hatched turtles are eaten by many animals, including sea birds and some fish. Their first run from the beach to the sea, and their first moments in the water, are particularly dangerous times for them, and many of them are eaten. Once they grow to their adult size, a particular type of fish is their main predator- large sharks, such as tiger sharks, can eat them, with teeth and jaws strong enough to break their hard shells. But even with this formidable predator, adult sea turtles are safer than the much more vulnerable young ones.

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Kaliko Amona
Kaliko Amona


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