Friday, March 28, 2003

Sea turtle researcher Marc Rice shows off the young green sea turtle that swam 3,000 miles over a nine-month period.

Turtle’s isle journey
tracked by satellite

By Rod Thompson

MAUNA LANI RESORT, Hawaii >> A young green sea turtle has made history by wearing a transmitter disclosing its location during a nine-month, 3,000-mile swim around the Hawaiian Islands.

Bearing the prosaic name Mauna Lani Honu No. 22270, the turtle was placed in the ocean seven miles offshore from the Mauna Lani Resort in West Hawaii last June.

After giving numerous satellite reports of its location, it was spotted offshore from the Mauna Lani on Feb. 20 and crawled onto seaside rocks at the resort on March 12, the resort announced this week.

"This is the only captive-reared green turtle so far in the Pacific successfully (followed by) satellite tracking," said George Balazs, a marine turtle specialist with the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The turtle was hatched at Sea Life Park on Oahu.

Balazs has tracked wild turtles with transmitters several times before, said Marc Rice, a colleague of Balazs' and head of the Sea Turtle Research Program at Hawaii Preparatory Academy.

Earlier this month, another transmitter-equipped turtle was released off Maui. It is now south of the Big Island, Balazs said.


Mauna Lani Honu (meaning turtle) No. 22270 got its uninspired name from the designation for the transmitter given by the American-French ARGOS satellite that tracked it, Balazs said.

The approximately 3-year-old turtle was released well offshore with the hope that it would take up a deep-water life, Balazs said.

It surprised scientists by switching back and forth between near-shore and open water.

The turtle first looped around the south end of the Big Island and then made a huge arc in the ocean taking it almost to Necker Island, 310 mile west of Niihau.

From there it came back to swim along the shores of Maui and East Hawaii, out to sea again and finally home to West Hawaii.

The turtle weighed 30 pounds when it left and 30 pounds when it returned. "This proves that it ate on its journey," Balazs said.

Eventually its route will be matched with ocean data gathered by satellites to see if there is any link.

On returning to Mauna Lani, the turtle's transmitter was removed because the turtle seems to intend to stay "home" now, said Rice. At more than $2,000 each, transmitters are expensive, and this one may provide more information on another turtle, he said.

Green sea turtles are federally listed as threatened in Hawaii and endangered around Florida and along the Pacific coast of Mexico.

Mauna Lani has a tradition of fostering sea turtles from Sea Life Park, where the stock of turtles predates the species' listing as endangered. Mauna Lani releases young ones into the ocean on "Turtle Independence Day" every July 4.

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