Tuesday, June 22, 1999

Efforts under way
to protect outer island
hawksbill turtle
nesting areas

By Gary T. Kubota
Maui correspondent


Environmentalists and some residents on the neighbor islands are joining to protect the habitat of endangered hawksbill turtles.

There are less than 50 known nesting females in the Hawaiian Islands, most on the Big Island and in Maui County, and they are facing threats to their nesting habitat through urbanization.

Dogs and mongooses also prey on eggs in nesting areas. The hawksbills' nesting season extends from the end of May through October.

Along the southwest Maui coastline, lights from residences and vehicles scare away nesting hawksbill turtles and confuse hatchlings during migration.

In a southwest section of the Big Island, tour buses and hundreds of visitors daily tramp on a black sand beach at Punaluu, a nesting area for hawksbills.

Some Punaluu residents are asking the county to close a 100-meter section of road to visitors to prevent the destruction of black sand dunes where hawksbills nest.

Lois Lewis, who lives in Punaluu, said she's seen a hawksbill try to find a nest several times. "The sand wasn't deep enough so she couldn't do it," she said.

Pele Hanoa, whose family has owned land in Punaluu since 1852, says she wants to close the road to visitor traffic and protect the hawksbills from being overrun by tourists.

"We and the hawksbills have been living there for many years," Hanoa said. "They are so nice to have around. We swim with them."

Federal official Lawrence Katahira, who has been monitoring the hawksbills' nesting patterns, says he feels there's a need for a meeting to discuss improving the habitat while not affecting local businesses.

Katahira said a number of residents rely upon selling souvenirs to visitors to make a living.

He said last summer, two hawksbills tried but were unable to nest in the Punaluu area. "We need to address everyone's concern," Katahira said.

On Maui, government officials and environmentalists are reminding residents to reduce their lighting during nesting season.

Hawaii Wildlife Fund official Hannah Bernard said residents are being asked to turn their lights away from shoreline and to use blinds in their homes to reduce lights off the shoreline.

Bernard said those who use lighting to discourage prowlers might consider using motion sensitive lights.

Glynnis Nakai, manager for Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge, said more hawksbill turtles are expected to nest this year.

In recent years, volunteers have been helping to build sand fences to restore the dunes fronting beaches near Kealia. In some places, the sand buries the fences.

Nakai said more work needs to be done to stabilize the dunes through growing native plants.

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