Sea Life Park
advertises plight
of sea turtles

A program on Sunday will include
information sessions and keiki fun

Sea turtles represent a living link to ancient seas, the descendants of species dating back 130 million years to the Cretaceous Period. Some may be more closely related to dinosaurs than our present day reptiles.

But in the 21st century, these ultimate survivors are considered endangered or threatened. To raise awareness and create an appreciation for the creatures, Sea Life Park will be hosting Sea Turtle Day Sunday. Turtle feeding, talks and keiki arts and crafts are just a few of the events scheduled. There will also be a "name the honu" contest for one of the park's newest deliveries.

World Turtle Trust is one of the event's sponsors, and spokesperson Laurie McKeon said such events are important if the turtle is to survive future centuries because, "people are realizing that their population has diminished."

Reasons are almost entirely manmade including human development on nesting beaches; loss of coral reefs due to development and pollution; harvesting of turtles for shells, leather and meat; poaching of eggs; and death caused by nets and other fishing gear and human debris. Turtles are also subject to a fatal disease called fibropapilloma, in which cancerous tumors grow on their bodies.

The locally based World Turtle Trust organization funds independent turtle conservation efforts worldwide. "You can't just protect one little group of turtles," McKeon explained. The effort needs to be international because the turtles travel. Groups monitor nests and prevent people from harvesting eggs and turtles.

The group started as the Honu Project, making videos such as "Red Turtle Rising," which screened at the Hawai'i International Film Festival.

Youngsters can see hatchlings of sea turtles in varying ages and sizes at Sea Life Park.

SEA LIFE PARK has conducted a sea turtle program for many years. Its breeding population lays eggs every year on the beach in the turtle lagoon, said Jim Horton, supervisor of animal programs at the park.

Females reach reproductive age after 35 to 40 years, and in the wild, return to the beaches where they were born to lay hundreds of eggs. Only a few of those hatchlings reach maturity.

"Two (hundred) to 600 hatchlings crawl out of the sand," he said. But only one in 1,000 will survive. Shoreline predators waiting for the hatchlings include sea birds, sharks and crabs.

"Just about anything will snag a turtle if they have the chance," he said. "In the water, they can hide in seaweed."

The hatchlings are weighed, measured, tagged and then released into the ocean. "We kiss our turtles goodbye and send them off into the ocean," Horton said. "If we can get them from the nest to the water, there is a much better chance of survival."

At birth, the turtles are about the size of a ping-pong ball. Some of the turtles are raised at Sea Life Park until they celebrate their first birthday, when they are four times larger, and are released on the Big Island. Most of the turtles are tagged to allow researchers to monitor feeding and nesting practices.

Turtles of different ages will be displayed during Sea Turtle Day, so people can see how fast they grow. No hands-on touching will be allowed because they are a protected species. But people will be able to purchase food to get close and feed them.

"You can definitely get a good look at them," Horton said.

And yes, some parents will be glad to see Honu Brewing Co. among the event participants. Proceeds from beer sales will benefit World Turtle Trust's mission continue to protects sea turtles worldwide.

"The green sea turtle population is improving," McKeon said, but people should not be lax.

Simple ways to help

>> Properly dispose of your garbage. Turtles may mistake plastic bags, Styrofoam, and trash floating in the water for food and die when this trash blocks their intestines. Helium balloons also pose a risk.

>> If you see a turtle on the beach at night, keep your distance and stay still and quiet. It is most likely an egg-laying turtle who may become frightened and return to the ocean without nesting.

>> Eliminate disturbances at nesting beaches, such as artificial lighting and beach armoring.

>> Vote in favor of national and international laws to minimize ocean pollution.

>> Support research and monitoring activities;

>> Increase public awareness and community participation in sea turtle conservation.

Visit for more information on various projects.

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