Friday, April 24, 2009

Hawaiian Green Turtle

The weather was so nice out on Midway... very different than in November. Warm summer days with a night light breeze, just enough to take the edge off without keeping you out of the water... unless you are an endangered Hawaiian Green Turtle. I had a good feeling when we found three turtles hauled out on a beach in Kona. The beach was pretty busy but there were signs asking people not to harass the turtles as they were "resting". Most people obeyed much to my delight.

Once we got to Sand Island on Midway Atoll (the only island of the three that is populated by humans) I checked out Turtle Beach. On one day I counted 15 turtles hauled out and saw several more cruising the shallow waters near the beach. The turtles are not actively nesting on Sand Island so he popular theory is that they are hauling out because of the high predator load in the waters surrounding the Atoll. Tiger sharks and Reef sharks are found in the waters in great abundance. In the late summer they feed on the unfortunate albatross chicks that don't learn to fly quickly enough. We spotted four different Reef sharks by the pier on a day we were returning from a snorkel trip. The good thing about the shallow water is that dark shapes like turtles, sharks and seals stand out from a great distance. It would be very difficult for one of these critters to sneak up on you if you were in the water.

There are other hazards out there for the turtles, man-made hazards.

Plastic bags floating in the ocean look a lot like jelly fish, a turtles favorite food. Once the bag is ingested it blocks the turtles stomach opening so it can't take in any real food. The turtle then starves to death. What you can do to help: Use a cloth bag for your groceries and keep using it. If you forget to bring your bag to the store, ask for paper which can then be recycled. Participate in a Beach Clean up day. Pick up any errant plastic bags you see in the street and place them in a proper waste receptacle.

Ghost nets: Turtles don't have very good eyesight. They can easily become entangled in netting that is adrift in the ocean and will drown. They don't have gills, they need to surface to breath! In 2003, NOAA and the Coast Guard removed 100,000 kilograms of derelict netting from the reefs in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands... in 2004 there was another 100,000 kilograms to be removed. The collected debris is transported to Honolulu where it is cut into managable pieces and then incinerated to create electrical energy which is then used by the residents of Oahu. In 2003 that was 111 metric tons which was enough to power 42 homes for a full year, the equivalent of 120 barrels of oil. This debris is worth far more out of the ocean!


John W. Wall said...

I just came across this article today about the Garbage Patch. What a mess!

Rebecca Jackrel said...

Great article John - Thank you for sharing it. It's a major issue and no one wants to own it. Very frustrating and sad.