We Turtley Love You!
It’s that time of year where Maui locals and malahini (visitors) are fixed on the horizon hoping to see an explosive splash, a shooting black blob, their first humpback whale of the season. The first humpback whale of this season was spotted off of Hana on September 29th by plane and October 22nd by boat. However, the whales are still few and far between, busy filling up their bellies in the Northern waters before the 3,000 mile swim to Maui.
This is the perfect time to give our year round residents, the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle, or honu, the attention they deserve, and will most likely miss once the whales steal the show! Through November 30th, we continue to take passengers snorkeling hoping to see these gentle reptiles. Our honu are one of seven species of sea turtles world wide. They can be easily identified by their rounded beak and shell and the 2 large prefrontal scales above their eyes. Green sea turtles get their name not because of what they look like, (most are actually a brownish color) but because of what they eat. Turtles eat so much limu, or seaweed, that once they reach adulthood their internal organs have a hue of green to them! These are the largest hard-shelled sea turtles in the world and once they are fully grown, you can easily differentiate between males and females. If their tail is proportional to their body size and lines up with their back flippers, it’s a female. If their tail goes way past their back flippers, it’s a male!
Green sea turtles are protected here in Hawai'i. When snorkeling, we ask that you stay a respectful 10 feet away from them. If they swim towards you, no worries! Gently kick your fins backward to ensure there is enough space between you and the turtle to observe their natural behaviors form a safe distance.
But why are they protected?
Hawaiian Green sea turtles were endangered, largely due to marine debris. In the past 25 years their population, specifically in Hawai'i, has increased by 53% simply due to regulations put in place to help protect these air-breathing marine reptiles and their environment. For example, a Plastic Bag Ban was set in place in 2011 to get rid of all single use plastic bags at grocery stores. These bags were polluting the near shore waters where sea turtles feed and were being mistaken as jelly fish, a favorite snack of the Greens. If the sea turtles are able to digest the plastic, it will cause a build up of air in the back of their shells, preventing them from diving away from boat traffic and disabling them from diving down to feed. This Plastic Bag Ban was a huge component for the increase in honu population numbers.
Although it is a great accomplishment that they are no longer endangered, honu are still considered threatened, mainly from near shore fisheries. Sea turtles will get tangled in abandoned fishing line, nets and hooks if discarded improperly. The Maui Ocean Center Marine Institute has a Sea Turtle Response Team to aid these injured turtles and also started a Fishing Line Recycle Program three years ago.
Our sea turtles have come a long way, but just like many other marine creatures, they still have a long way to go.
So what can you do?
If you see an injured sea turtle, whether it is wrapped in monofilament, hooked, bloated, cut, etc. you can call 808-286-2549, Maui Ocean Center’s Marine Institute. You can challenge yourself to not purchase or use single use plastics for a day, a week, a month or even a year! If you already drink from reusable water bottles and bring reusable bags with you when you’re shopping, try something new like shampoo bars instead of bottles or toothpaste tablets instead of tubes! Most importantly, you can share your knowledge with family and friends and support local businesses that you know respect and protect sea turtles in their environment like Makai Adventures and Kainani Sails!
We hope to see you out snorkeling with us and our honu during the last month of our group snorkel season! If you have any turtley questions, drop us a DM on Instagram at @makaiadventures or @kainanisails. You can also call or text us at 808-495-1001.
We can't wait to share an adventure with you soon!