HAWAIIAN SEA TURTLE
The Hawaiian sea turtle is the largest hard-shelled sea turtle in the entire world. The Green Sea turtle or "Honu" as it is known in Hawaiian is one of many endangered species that calls the Hawaiian Islands home.They were also a key source of food, tools, and ornamentation for ancient Hawaiians. It is said that they were the guides for the first voyagers to Hawaii, and symbolically represent the various powers of sea life in the ocean for the Hawaiian people. With the arrival of western culture, however, the level of exploitation of this resource increased dramatically. Large numbers of green turtles were harvested throughout the Hawaiian Islands through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1974, the State of Hawaii finally passed a regulation providing some protection, but this was virtually ignored until 1978, when the Hawaiian green turtle was placed on the list of threatened species.
Hawaiian sea turtles are commonly found swimming near the shores of most Hawaiian beaches, as is evidenced by the number of Hawaii tourists and locals alike, who boast about green turtle sightings when they are taking a swim in the ocean, or are snorkling near a shallow reef. In fact, Hawaiian sea turtle sightings are so common that the image and shape of the sea turtle can be seen throughout most stores in Hawaii on jewelry, clothing and even furniture and other home decor.
In other parts of the world, Hawaiian sea turtles face a serious threat from the destruction and loss of nesting sites. Fortunately, over 90% of nesting activity for the Hawaiian green turtle population occurs at the French Frigate Shoals, inside a National Wildlife Refuge System administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This, combined with its threatened status under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, has created an environment in which the Hawaiian green turtle should prosper. Current Hawaiian green turtle population levels are still thought to be below pre-western contact, and probably pre-World War II levels as well. Although the Hawaiian sea turtle population is in decline, and many Hawaii visitors may not get the chance to see one swimming or nesting on the beach in person, visitors often get their chance to view the sea turtle in a calmer and safer environment, in the form of sea turtle shaped gifts, folklore books and other Hawaii souvenir items with the likeness of the Hawaiian sea turtle.
Hawaiian green sea turtles occupy three habitat types:
* Nesting and basking beaches.
* Convergence zones.
* Feeding grounds in relatively shallow waters.
In Hawaii, there is a wide variety of feeding habitat. For example, many green sea turtles have been found feeding along the Kau coastline of the island of Hawaii. This is a lava coast with few protective reefs, and most foraging occurs under turbulent conditions. Green sea turtles have also been found feeding as such locations as Bellows Beach, Oahu, which has a sandy bottom extending 25 to 100 m from shore and subtidal reefs protecting the coastline from heavy surf. They usually feed on grasses and algae as the staple of their diet.
One interesting behaviour of the Hawaiian green turtle is its fondness for crawling ashore at isolated sites in order to bask. Basking is rare among marine turtles, and has been observed in only a few populations in the Pacific. Hawaiian green turtles bask, but this behaviour seems to be limited to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. It is thought that they do this for thermoregulation (they like to warm up in the sun), resting (they like to sleep in the sun), and perhaps for protection from tiger sharks (they don't like to be eaten). Sounds just like people to us.
It has been generally accepted, but not proven, that green sea turtles return to nest on the beach where they were born. If you ever get a chance to witness Hawaiian sea turtles nesting, please make sure that you remain at a distance so as to not scare them. Once many Hawaiian visitors experience such an event, while playing on the beach, they often want to buy a souvenir of the Hawaiian green sea turtle to comemorate the occasion and to show their friends and family an image of this beautiful and mythical Hawaiian sea animal.