COURTESY MAUNA LANI RESORT
Turtle Independence Day festivities will take place this year from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. on July 4 at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows on the Big Island. Call (808) 885-6622.
Turtles call a resort home until they’re ready to travel
Independence Day means flags waving in the breeze, hot dogs, and wriggling young Hawaiian marine turtles, gleefully paddling out to sea in the blue-green ocean ...
Turtles? In Hawaii, those who have been working to save the native marine turtles (honu in Hawaiian) look forward to sending another graduating class of juveniles to sea on July 4 at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows on the Big Island.
The young honu are from brood stock hatched at Sea Life Park. Anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred hatch each year at the park, and while most are tagged by the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service and released into the ocean within the first 24 hours of life, a few are held back and sent to qualified facilities on educational loans.
The Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows has been receiving juvenile honu since l989, caring for them in the saltwater ponds of the bay until they reach a size and weight suitable for release. In the meantime, the honu become part of a Turtle Ambassador Program, pioneered at Sea Life Park on Oahu more than 18 years ago.
The public can visit ambassador turtles at certified sites, which also include the Kahala Hotel and Resort on Oahu and the Maui Ocean Center in Maalaea. The sites educate visitors from around the world about the long road to recovery for these marine animals.
The annual Turtle Independence Day Celebration at Mauna Lani is held at the ocean's edge, with hundreds of flag-waving well-wishers bidding the young honu aloha. It's a carnival atmosphere that includes live entertainment, educational displays, games, face-painting, picnic fare and canoe rides for the keiki.
At 9:30 a.m., the turtles will be gathered and escorted to the ocean, where a Hawaiian chant and honu hula will take place prior to the release.
Honu chosen for release undergo a thorough veterinary check. Those not yet fit or mature enough might still be the stars of next year's release.
Programs such as this one increase awareness of the need to preserve and learn from these turtles. Those that sleep on our beaches and feed in the shallow waters of Oahu have made a 1,000-mile round trip to mate, nest and return home.
It has only been in recent years that scientists have been able to track these ancient mariners -- thanks to modern electronics.
If you should come upon a turtle on the beach and it seems to be sporting Cold War-era electronic spyware, please don't try to remove the equipment. The ID tags and transponder equipment help researchers such as Dr. George Balazs, director of the NOAA Marine Turtle Research Program in Honolulu, track released turtles on their travels. Turtle locations are transmitted over the Internet (www.turtles.org), so you, too, can track them.
You may have lived in Hawaii long enough to remember when turtle steaks were on the menu in Island restaurants. Thankfully, turtle meat has been banned in the United States since turtles were declared threatened in l978. But turtle meat and turtle-shell jewelry are still sold in other parts of the world. Perhaps looking into the eyes of these ambassador turtles and learning more about them may make folks think twice about purchasing turtle-shell ornaments.
The good news is that honu populations have recovered to the point where they frequently can be seen getting some well-deserved rest on island beaches -- such as at Oahu's Laniakea Beach.
Those snoozing turtles have migrated 500 miles from the French Frigate Shoals, where they've mated and laid eggs. They probably want what every beachgoing family wants: a little well-deserved rest and the assurance that their young will be safe.
For this reason, the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service Marine Turtle Research Program has posted "Show Turtles Aloha" fliers at popular resting sites. The fliers remind visitors not to feed the turtles -- hand-feeding of seaweed makes the turtles aggressive toward people. In giant letters, the flyers remind readers that "SWIMMERS -- INCLUDING CHILDREN -- GET BITTEN," for those who need it spelled out. If you see turtles in trouble -- tangled in fishing lines, stranded ashore, sick or injured -- call the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, 983-5730.
teaches botany, ethnobotany and environmental science at Chaminade University. Her column runs on the last Monday of the month. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org