DLNR teams up with Coast Guard to look for turtles threatened by Kilauea lava flow

By: Tianna Morimoto HNN Summer Intern

PUNA, BIG ISLAND (Hawaii News Now) — The U.S. Coast Guard has teamed up with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to inspect for turtles that may be threatened by the ongoing Kilauea eruption.

The U.S. Coast Guard Barbers Point Air Station on Wednesday provided a low-flying plane to DLNR representatives as they went searching for green sea turtles near the coastline of Kapoho Bay and the Pohiki Boat Ramp, near where lava has been entering the ocean for weeks.

No turtles could be seen as the current ocean conditions made it almost impossible to find any turtles.

"It would be very difficult to save turtles anywhere along the coastline at this point," said Ikaika Marzo, permitted lava boat tour operator and cultural practitioner from Puna. "The water is so turbid and murky that it would be hard to even spot them upclose from the shoreline. The time has passed."

Many postings of turtles — some apparently trapped or killed due to lava — have been circulating on social media. However, experts from NOAA Fisheries and DLNR say that even if they could find these turtles, relocating them would be a challenge.

This is due to the risk of harm that comes from not having a safe access by land or sea to capture to these animals, as well as the turtles' territorial instinct which may coerce them to swim back to their home.

Researchers do believe that the turtles in distress — which had a clear path to the ocean — swam away from the area.

This is the third trip in the past 10 days that the DLNR has taken to look for the turtles threatened by the lava flow.

DLNR Chair Suzanne Case said, "We're charged with the mission of protecting Hawaii's natural resources and we obviously share everyone's concerns and sadness over the loss of turtles and any other aquatic and terrestrial wildlife."

Case added, "As much as we'd like to rescue and save each creature impacted by the East Rift Zone eruption, much of it is simply beyond all of our control. The restricted zones are necessary for public safety. I really encourage everyone to respect and stay out of areas that are off limits as established by the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard."

Anyone who sees turtles or other animals trapped by lava -- outside of the restricted disaster zone -- can report it to NOAA's turtle stranding hotline at 1-888-256-9840 or can call the DLNR hotline at (808) 643-DLNR.

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