“Yes, they do sunbathe,” I respond to my friend Elena’s question about the
turtles. Several are gathered on the shoreline, where sea and land meet. Another, past this lagoon, has half its body and head perched on a sunlit, rocky, uneven reef line. The rocks act as a barrier between rough currents in the ocean caused by the wind and this peaceful pool on the shore side. Here, the turtles come to rest, revive, and perhaps take a break from rough waters. It’s a haven for them; red limu lines this natural lap pool of aquamarine waters. It’s a day at the spa for the honus. They float along with heads popping out of the water every few minutes for air, golden eyes shining in the daylight. Witnessing this behavior, it may be a surprise to know that when they swim in the ocean they are capable of remaining underwater for two hours. The turtles are Hawaiian green sea turtles – Chelonia mydas. On the islands and in the Hawaiian language they are known as Honu. They appear awkward on land using their flippers, which have two tiny claws on each leg, to push along the sand. But then again, these flippers weren’t made for walking. Seeing this you would hardly guess they can swim up the 35 mph in the ocean. The only predators capable of catching these swift, hard-shelled turtles are sharks and, yes, people. If you see one with a missing or shortened flipper it is most likely the mark of a shark, who I’ve heard favor turtles.
The Hawaiian green sea turtle populations have been rising slowly as they make a return from a threatened status as of 1978. Marine debris and habitat destruction, along with poaching, tainted seaweed, and boating activity have been some of the causes of their landing on the endangered species list. Fortunately through public awareness of their plight, education, and conservation efforts the population continues to grow. The only indigenous reptile in Hawai’i, the honu reaches maturity at approximately 25 and then sets off to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to mate. In addition to their natural beauty and the wonder they add to the life of the islands and visitors, honu are associated with good luck. My hopes are that during their life span, which is unknown but has been estimated anywhere from 60-100 years, their endangered status will disappear. Luck is on their side.
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