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Maui enters peak of turtle hatching season

WAILEA >> Maui is “just entering the peak” of the turtle nesting/hatching season with about 25 nests discovered across the island this year, said an official with the Hawai’i Wildlife Fund.

“Nesting is over for the season, so we’re now at the middle of hatching season,” said Hannah Bernard, president of Hawai’i Wildlife Fund.

Of the nests that have been discovered, three female green sea turtles have been identified. One mother has laid six in Lahaina, another has laid six at Hookipa Beach Park and the final one has nested at least twice on a beach near Stable Road in Paia.

“The Lahaina female can lay as many as seven nests,” Bernard said Monday of the prolific turtle mother known as Maui Girl. “She’s like supermom.”

Two hawksbill turtles have nested on Maui as well, with one laying five nests in Kihei and another laying six nests on the beach near the Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge.

The nesting period, which is typically at night, can occur as early as May and end as late as November, Bernard said.

“We’re seeing the green sea turtles nesting on the main Hawaiian Islands more than in the past,” she said. “But it’s not a lot. We’re only talking about a handful of turtles.”

Through the years, there have been a total of nine confirmed nesting female sea turtles on Maui, with a possible 10th in Hana, Bernard said.

Both the green and hawksbill sea turtles are classified as endangered. The hawksbill, which is critically endangered, has between 20,000 to 23,000 nesting females in the world, while the green sea turtle has between 85,000 to 90,000, according to the Sea Turtle Conservancy.

Green sea turtles nest every two years and between three to five times per season. Each female lays an average of 115 eggs in each nest, with the eggs incubating for about two months.

Hawksbill turtles nest every two to four years and between three to six times per season. Each female lays an average of 160 eggs in each nest with incubation about two months.

While thousands of baby turtles hatch each year in the U.S., only one in 1,000 will survive to adulthood, the conservancy said on its website.

“The hawksbill are such a small population, so if we’re not doing more interventive work it will go extinct in our lifetime,” Bernard said of the turtle that has populations in Hawaii. “We’re talking about a hundred nesting females on the islands. It’s not very many.”

Residents and tourists were reminded to avoid disturbing the sea turtles and their nesting grounds. The Hawai’i Wildlife Fund recommends that the public give turtles at least 10 feet of space in the water and about 15 feet on the beach.

In the Ask The Mayor column published Monday in The Maui News, a writer asked about conservation volunteers regulating visitations of nesting turtles at Hookipa Beach Park. The volunteers, who were identified as “Honu Police,” allegedly told the writer to turn off flashlights and to not take flash pictures.

Bernard said that there are no laws against people getting close to sea turtles, shining lights or using flash photography at night. Still, she discouraged those practices.

“We need to give them space,” she said, noting that the numbers of green sea turtles have increased thanks to 36 years of government protection. “There are so many greens now that we’ve created a team in helping to educate people on how to behave around green turtles.

“We recommend people keep a distance away from them because we have a generation that has gone unhunted and is somewhat unafraid of humans.”

Anyone who sees a turtle stranded or digging a nest or if they see a hatchling wandering, call Hawaii Sea Turtle Stranding at (808) 725-5730.

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