A trio of Hawaii County firefighters helped young volunteers carry a juvenile sea turtle to the water yesterday at Mauna Lani Resort on the Big Island's Kohala Coast.
Endangered sea turtles get a new release on life
The creatures are bred in captivity, then freed at an annual event
KOHALA COAST, Hawaii » With a couple of strong flaps of their flippers, five green sea turtles tasted freedom for the first time yesterday along the Kohala Coast.
The five juvenile turtles -- Kawaikonaonalani, Kapuailohia, Keawe, Hilo and Mii -- were released into the Pacific Ocean from the beach at Mauna Lani Resort as hundreds of visitors and residents lined up to bid them farewell.
The turtles, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act, were bred in captivity and deemed big enough and healthy enough to take part in the 19th annual Turtle Independence Day Celebration, a partnership between the Mauna Lani Resort and Oahu's Sea Life Park.
"These guys are ambassadors of their species," said George "Keoki" Balazs, a marine turtle researcher with the National Marine Fisheries Service Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center. "It's a matter of getting people to realize living creatures and wild areas are something we need in our world."
After a final health checkup and a microchip identification implant, the 1- and 2-year-old turtles were ferried in slings by young volunteers down to the water's edge where they were launched into the shallows.
Larry Ursua held on to juvenile green sea turtle Mii yesterday as members of hula Halau O Kupa Aina gave it a final stroke before it was released into the Pacific Ocean for the first time.
The Opdycke family of Waimea helped set Hilo free.
"It was really strong -- those flippers, man," said Jordan Opdycke.
His mother, Linda, said it was a special family moment before Jordan heads off to Southern Oregon University.
"He's our last one so we'll be empty-nesters soon," she said. "It was very symbolic for us."
The babies were born at Sea Life Park on Oahu and raised at the Mauna Lani Resort's saltwater ponds.
Since 1989 the Turtle Independence Day program has released more than 125 juveniles into the wild.
U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, said the program has helped revive the population of the green sea turtle, or honu.
"Today reminds us of our responsibility to respect and care for the ocean and its creatures," he said.
Decades ago, green sea turtles were hunted for sport and food. That changed in 1978, when the turtle was added to the federal endangered species list and it became a crime to kill or harass them.