KAILUA-KONA >> Five turtles waded into the ocean after gaining their freedom at Hawaii island’s Mauna Lani Resort on Independence Day.
The hotel released the green sea turtles as part of an ongoing partnership with Sea Life Park on Oahu.
The marine park sends the hotel turtles, ages 3 to 5 months, from its captive breeding program. The resort raises the turtles in ponds until they’ve grown enough to join the wild.
The resort has released more than 200 turtles in nearly 25 years, Mauna Lani fishpond manager Pii Laeha said.
Hundreds gathered along the shore to watch the turtle release Thursday, West Hawaii Today reported.
Laeha says the event helps people see the culture of Hawaii.
“The bigger picture is that we are trying to raise awareness not only about the turtles, but our environment in general,” Laeha said.
Sea turtles are ancient ocean dwellers that have lived on Earth for 150 million years. The federal government listed Hawaii’s green sea turtles as threatened in 1978, but the population has been growing nearly 6 percent a year for the last three decades.
The turtles are tagged so researchers can keep track of the former Mauna Lani residents.
Visitors called the release a unique experience.
“You don’t get to see this every day, and it was something different than the normal Fourth of July celebrations,” Southern California resident Steve Wacrath said.
Susan Wacrath described the release as heartwarming. “We enjoyed seeing where they went once they hit the water. It is something we will remember for a long time,” she said.