Volunteer group working to protect Hawaiian sea turtles

Published: Sep. 9, 2009 at 8:40 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 10, 2009 at 1:44 AM HST
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Alan Renninger
Alan Renninger
"Honey Girl", July 2008
"Honey Girl", July 2008
Christian Martin
Christian Martin

By Mari-Ela David - bio | email

NORTH SHORE, OAHU (KHNL) - In this week's Earth and Sea Project report, we take you to a beach on Oahu's North Shore where Hawaiian green sea turtles love to hang out.

The've been around since the dinosaur years, but are now threatened.

A citizen's group called Malama Na Honu is determined to keep the ancient creatures from dying out.

Native Hawaiians regarded them as aumakua, or family guardians.

They're considered so sacred, touching them is forbidden.

"We ask people not to touch them. We ask them to stay back five or six feet from the turtles," said Alan Renninger, a volunteer with Malama Na Honu.

Renninger is a Honu Guardian with Malama Na Honu, a non-profit that looks after the sunbathing Hawaiian green sea turtles at Laniakea Beach.

It is illegal to harrass the creatures, and touching, feeding, or teasing them is prohibited.

Though protected by the Endangered Species Act, and Hawaii state law, these creatures are still vulnerable.

The most shocking case was in July of 2008. Honey Girl, a regular at Laniakea Beach, was found buried in the sand, slaughtered, with her flipper and breast plate maliciously removed.

Volunteers put up a memorial. They say soon after, one of Honey Girl's turtle friends came out of the water looking for her.

"He came up along the beach and kind of went up right to where the memorial was and kind of stayed there the whole afternoon," said Renninger.

Word has since spread about this honu haven, attracting crowds. Honu Guardians educate visitors, and collect data for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

NOAA has identified 20-plus sea turtles that frequently hang out at Laniakea Beach. On the side of the shells of some of them, is a time depth recorder that NOAA puts on to study how deep in the water they go. NOAA also puts on satellite antennas on the creatures, to track their travels.

"It's really rare to see some of these animals around. It's just really cool to get up close to them and see them," said Christian Martin, a tourist who came out to Laniakea Beach to see the green sea turtles.

Through Malama Na Honu's work, people can get close enough to admire these ancient creatures, but stay far enough to respect their space, and make sure they're around for millions of more years to come.

On a global scale, the population of sea turtles is declining.

But in Hawaii, NOAA says their numbers have increased 53% over the last 25 years.

Malama Na Honu says the Hawaiian green sea turtles at Laniakea Beach have been hanging out there since 1999.