HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Pi'i Laeha is caretaker of the turtles that reside in the Mauna Lani Resort's Malama Honu program, an education and conservation effort.
“People simply call me the turtle guy,” he said.
The conservation program started in 1989 to help Hawaii’s endangered green sea turtles. Laeha took it over years ago after the original caretaker left.
"Turtle conservation for me is very important because it plays a pivotal role in many aboriginal societies. They use the sea turtle as an icon," he said.
Laeha receives hatchlings from Sea Life Park and raises them for two to three years in the resort's saltwater ponds.
“It’s kind of a jump-start program where their survivorship increases greatly,” he said.
Every Fourth of July turtles that are big enough to survive in the wild are released.
It’s their “independence day.”
“The important thing about releasing our turtles back is that’s their home. They’re just with us for a short time. Their world is out in the ocean, not here,” he said.
Normally, hundreds of spectators watch the event.
"It's pretty awesome," Laeha said.
But this year it will be closed to the public because of coronavirus concerns. Before they’re set free, the turtles are given Hawaiian names.
"Many people don't know that these Hawaiian names have great significance in our culture, not only in their meanings but sometimes they're named after important people," Laeha said.
The Malama Honu program has raised and released 224 green sea turtles.
Laeha grew up an avid waterman. He was a Waikiki beach boy before moving to the Big Island. He said the honu program reaches beyond turtle conservation.
“The real message is caring for what we call our island world,” he said