Count of female hawksbillBy Gary T. Kubota
WAILUKU -- Wildlife officials say the number of known hawksbill turtles remains dangerously low. But they say efforts to protect the hawksbills from alien land predators are showing some success.
With the nesting season nearing an end, wildlife volunteers have counted 20 female hawksbills nesting along Hawaii's coastlines this year.
The number of nesting females was also 20 in 1998. Officials say less than 50 female hawksbills are known to frequent Hawaii's coastlines during nesting season from June through October.
This year, 18 females were observed nesting on the Big Island, one on Maui and one on Molokai.
Last year there were 19 females on the Big island and one on Maui.
Lawrence Katahira, a resource specialist for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, said there seems to be less nest disturbances by predators this year on the Big Island because of traps laid to control the number of alien animals, such as the mongoose.
Katahira said scientists haven't been observing the hawksbills long enough to determine if the population is increasing or decreasing.
He said the numbers are still very low. Along south Maui beaches near homes and condominiums, only a single female hawksbill laid nests this year.
There were three observed in south Maui in 1997 and two in 1996.
The urbanization of south Maui has taken its toll on hawksbills.
A female hawksbill turtle was killed by a motorist in 1993, and another in 1996.
"We're dealing with a small number of female turtles," said Steven A. Williams, a volunteer coordinator.
"If turtles are going to nest here, people are going to have to be more aware. This population is on a collision course with development," he said.
Wildlife officials have been working with residents to reduce the glare of lights during nesting season.
Kealia refuge manager Glynnis Nakai said she expects more female hawksbills to be nesting in south Maui next year.
Nakai said the females produce eggs every two to three years and that three females who laid eggs in 1997 are expected to return to south Maui.