City parks and military officials are closing Bellows Field Beach Park to overnight camping several months this summer due to the anticipated return of nesting Hawaiian green sea turtles.
Last summer, in the midst of pandemic restrictions, green sea turtles nested at Bellows Beach for the first time in documented history at seven nesting sites, according to officials.
The closure to overnight camping is scheduled from April 19 to Sept. 2, the Honolulu Department of Parks and Recreation said, and will also include the twilight use of bathroom and shower facilities.
The restriction, however, may be extended beyond Labor Day weekend in September if additional nesting sites are observed.
Day use of the popular stretch of Waimanalo beach will still be allowed as usual on weekends, DPR said, along with military training exercises on weekdays. Access to identified nesting sites will be restricted.
“We recognize that the campground at Bellows is one of our largest and most popular camping areas on Oahu,” said DPR Director Laura H. Thielen in a news release. “As a result of camping being suspended there for several months, we are exploring how to offer more camping opportunities at some of our other campgrounds.”
The decision was made jointly by Marine Corps Base Hawaii and DPR, which say the closure is necessary to protect the turtles as they nest, incubate and hatch along the pristine shoreline.
Green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) — the largest of all the hard-shelled sea turtles – are found throughout the world and nest in more than 80 countries, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In the United States, nesting green sea turtles are primarily found in the Hawaiian islands and Pacific Island territories, as well as Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Florida. Nesting occurs nocturnally, and hatchlings generally emerge at night.
They are listed as endangered in many regions, and threatened in others, including Hawaii, and are protected by state and federal laws.
Officials said they have documented several human activities at Bellows that threaten the safety of the nesting turtles, including illegal beach off-roading, campfires, dogs, illegal trash dumping, and the presence of artificial lighting.
“The arrival of turtles at Bellows last year was truly unprecedented for us,” said Lt. Col. Tim Pochop, Marine Corps Base Hawaii’s Environmental Division Director, in a statement. “This year we are being proactive in providing an area for these turtles to nest and hatch, which means limiting nighttime activities.”
Pochop said MCBH has also set up a monitoring program to identity sea turtle nesting activity along Bellows Beach.
“We believe this approach balances the needs of the community, our military operations, and these environmental efforts, and we greatly appreciate the assistance of the community in helping to care for our aquatic friends,” he said. “Please let us know if you see anything on the beach so we can include it in our program. We are serious about our environmental stewardship and safeguarding these protected turtles.”
According to protocol, once a nesting site is confirmed, the area surrounding it will be cordoned off from human use, and signs will be posted.
“Keeping Bellows open for daytime use, with respect to the nesting sites, and expanding camping opportunities at other City park locations really balances our kuleana of providing outdoor recreational opportunities to our customers while also being good stewards of the land,” Thielen said. ”That way the natural beauty of our island and the wildlife with which we share it can be preserved for generations to come. We really appreciate the Waimanalo community, campers, and the Marine Corps Base officials for their understanding and assistance in this kakou conservation effort.”
Reports of sea turtle nest sites and hatchlings that need protection statewide can be reported to the NOAA hotline at 888-256-9840. Reports of illegal behavior or disturbance of turtles and nests at Bellows can be made at 285-9529 or 257-2123.