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Thursday, November 16, 2000

Courtesy photo
Female green turtles recently released about 150
hatchlings into the ocean off Maui.

Green turtles
resurge along
Maui coastline

After being listed as 'threatened'
in 1978, the number of nesting
turtles hit about 500 in 1998

By Gary T. Kubota

LAHAINA -- For the first time in decades, Hawaiian green turtles have nested on Maui. At least two females have recently laid nests along the Maui coastline, releasing more than 150 hatchlings into the open ocean.

"It's good to see them coming back," said Ed Lindsey, 61, who was raised in Lahaina.

Lindsey recalled green turtles laying nests of eggs along the Lahaina and Kaanapali coastline in the 1940s and 1950s.

State aquatics biologist Skippy Hau said there have been more green turtles seen by fishermen and snorkelers throughout the Hawaiian Islands.

He said females that were hatchlings when the government protection began more than two decades ago are reaching maturity and beginning to lay eggs.

About a dozen hatchlings were apparently able to reach the ocean from their nest near the office of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary in south Maui in July.

An estimated 145 baby green turtles were hatched in three nests near the Lahaina Shores condominium in west Maui last month.

Courtesy photo
Skippy Hau, state aquatics biologist, and Mary Jane Grady,
Hawaii Wildlife Fund volunteer, show one of the endangered
Hawaiian green turtles they've been protecting on Maui.

"It was amazing," said Mary Jane Grady, a Hawaii Wildlife Fund volunteer who spent hundreds of hours patrolling the beach to protect the nests in Lahaina. "It was an incredible experience."

The female that laid eggs in three nests in Lahaina had a tag identifying her as being released off Hilo about 19 years ago when she weighed six pounds and was about a year old, said Glynnis Nakai, a federal wildlife manager.

Nakai said the female turtle was among some 200 turtles hatched at the French Frigate Shoals in 1980 and brought to Honolulu.

After a year, they were tagged and released in waters off various islands, including Oahu, Kauai, the Big Island and Maui.

The Hawaiian green turtle was listed as a threatened species in 1978, providing it with protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Most of their nesting activity occurs at East Island in the French Frigate Shoals in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands chain.

Since 1978, the number of nesting green turtles has increased from 100 to a high of about 500 in 1998.

Nakai said the green turtles are a little bigger than hawksbill turtles.

She said while hawksbills tend to hide their nests well in the sand, the green turtles leave a large pit that's noticeable.

The female green turtle was first noticed on the beach in Lahaina at 7 p.m. on Aug. 7.

She returned to the water at 2:30 p.m. the next day after laying and burying a clutch of eggs.

Grady said volunteers kept residents out of the sight of the turtle and had as little contact as possible with it and the hatchlings as they crawled to the ocean.

She said officials waited 72 hours after the emergence of the first hatchlings before digging the nest to help the remaining hatchlings reach the ocean.

Wildlife Fund executive director Hannah Bernard said expanding the nesting area to Maui gives the species better protection in the event there ever was a problem with them at French Frigate Shoals.

Bernard said residents as well as businesses helped by reducing the amount of light at night on the beach and staying away from the nests.

"We can have endangered species existing with humans if we work together," Bernard said.

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