Conservation at work on North Shore
MY FRIEND Scott and I went to the North Shore last weekend and received a special holiday gift.
At Laniakea Beach, we watched two turtles swim through five kids playing in the water. The toddlers didn't notice the turtles, which were as big as the children themselves, and the turtles didn't seem to care at all about the laughing, splashing children.
These turtles were on a mission, and they pushed toward the beach like little living tanks. When they reached the shoreline, they bulldozed on, digging their flippers into the sand, hauling themselves to dry land.
When Scott commented on this determination to turtle specialist George Ba- lazs, he smiled affectionately at the turtles, which by then had fallen asleep. "You can't stop a turtle," George said, "from doing what it wants to do."
What the turtles wanted to do was bask in the sun on the sand, a behavior unique to Hawaii and Galapagos green turtles. No one knows why they do this, but a visitor standing next to me commented. "Why not sleep on the beach in the sun?" she said. "It's safe and it feels good."
Another animal with a similar fondness for sunbathing is the Hawaiian monk seal. It was our good luck last Saturday to find an adult female, known as Halona, napping 100 yards down the beach from the turtles. This is unusual at Laniakea. Turtles emerge there almost daily but seals rarely do.
Scott and I went to visit the seal, and there we met Erin Green, a National Marine Fisheries Service seal specialist. Like George, Erin was friendly and treated visitors and residents with respect, explaining why keeping a distance is important.
Unlike turtles, it's easy for people to stop monk seals from doing what they want to do. Sometimes, just the sound of a human voice or a sudden movement will cause a seal to retreat to the water.
And these animals need their rest. Monk seals sometimes spend months at sea searching for fish, octopuses, lobsters and other live prey. Hawaii's seals are in the water so long their fur often turns green with algae.
Seal mothers are particularly skittish, sometimes abandoning their offspring when startled. With only about 1,200 Hawaiian monk seals left in the world, each pup is a precious present.
We watched Halona push her face into the sand and roll over, a lot of activity for a seal on the beach. On the way back to the turtles, we noticed a flock of shorebirds, all protected species, picking invertebrates along the shoreline rocks. Since sanderlings, wandering tattlers and ruddy turnstones all fed together, that beach is apparently a shorebird horn-of-plenty.
That beach is also proof of the effectiveness of conservation laws, especially when carried out with the aloha I saw from the dedicated workers there on Saturday.
You can help others experience these extraordinary gifts of nature. Call 983-5730 for turtle concerns. Report all seal sightings and/or abuse to 983-5715, or toll-free at 888-256-9840.
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