Green tur­tle pop­u­la­tion is grow­ing at Mid­way

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - LOCAL & BUSINESS - SU­SAN SCOTT

Imissed go­ing to Mid­way this year, but be­cause two friends had flown there early, and they’re back now, I get to en­joy tales of the atoll.

Mid­way is fa­mous for host­ing the largest al­ba­tross colony in the world (1 mil­lion to 2 mil­lion in­di­vid­u­als), but it’s also be­come a place to ad­mire sea tur­tles. My friends are still mar­veling over the sight of a green tur­tle gob­bling up a raft of Por­tuguese men-of-war.

Dur­ing my first vis­its to Mid­way in the 1980s, I didn’t see any tur­tles. But decades of pro­tec­tion have helped Hawaii’s greens thrive, and as their num­bers in­crease, the tur­tles are branch­ing out. For rea­sons known only to the tur­tles, some rou­tinely swim to Mid­way’s Sand Is­land to bask on one par­tic­u­lar beach.

———

Dur­ing my al­ba­tross work two years ago, I counted 38 adult tur­tles sun­bathing on one par­tic­u­lar beach on Mid­way’s Sand Is­land, some so close to­gether that their flip­pers draped over their neigh­bors’ backs. Now this beach some­times hosts more than 50 in­di­vid­u­als.

———

On Oahu’s North

Shore, see­ing nine or 10 tur­tles doz­ing on the beach is a good day. Mid­way’s tur­tles, though, have made bask­ing prac­ti­cally a team sport.

Dur­ing my al­ba­tross work two years ago, I counted 38 adult tur­tles sun­bathing on that beach, some so close to­gether that their flip­pers draped over their neigh­bors’ broad backs. Now this beach some­times hosts more than 50 in­di­vid­u­als.

A few tur­tles lay eggs at Mid­way, but the atoll is not yet a sig­nif­i­cant nest­ing spot for Hawaii’s greens. Be­cause most tur­tles re­turn to their hatch­ing place to mate and lay eggs, and green tur­tles don’t reach sex­ual ma­tu­rity un­til they’re 20-plus years old, it takes decades to es­tab­lish new breed­ing colonies.

Lim­ited nest­ing beaches is one rea­son

Hawaii’s green tur­tles are still listed as a threat­ened species. More than 90 per­cent lay their eggs at French Frigate Shoals, about 500 miles north­west of Oahu and 700 miles south­east of Mid­way.

Two weeks ago in Mid­way’s har­bor, my friends saw an im­ma­ture tur­tle, about the size of a din­ner tray, eat­ing trapped Por­tuguese men-of-war. This was a wind-cre­ated pupu plat­ter for the tur­tle, which took the blue floats, one at a time, into its mouth.

See­ing the crea­tures’ ten­ta­cles drag­ging over the cor­ners of the tur­tle’s mouth was cringe-wor­thy for the hu­man on­look­ers, but the nasty men-of-war’s sting­ing cells didn’t seem to hurt the tur­tles’ skin or tongue.

As my friends and I strolled through Haleiwa Beach Park last week, we came across a friendly and in­for­ma­tive tur­tle and seal guardian, Niko Lopez, from a non­profit called Hawaii Ma­rine An­i­mal Re­sponse, or HMAR.

We learned that vol­un­teers with this ci­ti­zen science group work with fed­eral and state agen­cies to pa­trol, teach, pro­tect and res­cue Hawaii’s tur­tles, seals, whales and dol­phins on Oahu and Molokai. HMAR vol­un­teers in 2016 were out 3,700 times, en­gag­ing about 56,000 mem­bers of the pub­lic.

Re­port tur­tle or seal in­juries or abuse to HMAR at 888-256-9840. For more in­for­ma­tion or to vol­un­teer with the group, see h-mar. org.

Por­tuguese men-of-war are re­mark­able an­i­mals in their own right, but they do pack a punch to hu­man skin. Nice to know that our honu are help­ing keep the ras­cals in check.

COURTESY HOPE RONCO

Green tur­tles have be­come abun­dant on Mid­way Atoll, choos­ing to bask in par­tic­u­lar on Mid­way’s Sand Is­land. An im­ma­ture green tur­tle on Mid­way pre­pares to eat a Por­tuguese man-of-war.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.