Hawaiian sea turtle meat was once used for food and their shells fashioned into various tools and decorations for early Hawaiians. Although Hawaii placed regulations on hunting these turtles, it wasn’t until the designation by the U.S. Endangered Species act as a threatened species in 1978 that any real change began. There are many species of marine turtle within the Hawaiian islands, such as the Leatherback, Hawkbills and Green turtles. Greens are the most common Hawaiian sea turtle.
The Hawaiian green sea turtle is named for the green fat found under their shell. Being herbivores, they live primarily within Hawaii’s shallow lagoons where they can feed upon the lush sea vegetation and seagrass. Nesting within Hawaii occurs at O’ahu’s aptly named Turtle Bay. Unlike other species of sea turtle, that do not return to shore unless they are a nesting female, Greens will actually return to shore to bask in the sun. Before there were restrictions placed upon hunting greens, their skin was tanned and used for shoes and purses in. The Hawaiian green sea turtle has since been protected.
Hawaiian sea turtle facts involve the 3 types of marine turtles found there and where in Hawai they live. First is the green turtle, the most common, who is found in the shallow waters of the coastline. Then there is the hawksbill – which prefer to live within Hawaiian coral reefs. Lastly are the leatherbacks – found further off the coastlines of Hawaii, in more open deeper water. Although greens and hawkbills nest within areas of Hawaii, the leatherback does not and is found off of Hawaii on their way to other destinations. The Hawaiian “honu”, which means “of the turtle”, comes from the green turtle; which should be mentioned when discussing Hawaiian sea turtle facts.
Hawaiian sea turtle legend includes a tale of Kauila- a green turtle who was able to magically transform into a girl so she could look over and protect the children who payed along Punalu’s Beach. Kauila legend further tells that when Kaulia’s turtle mother was digging her nest to lay her eggs , a spring of water sprang forth from the hole which quenched the thirst of the island children. Kauila is considered the mythical mother of all sea turtles and is part of Hawaiin folklore still. Another Hawaiin sea turtle legend is that they are responsible for the populating of the islands – leading voyagers to the islands.
Baby Hawaiian sea turtles are only about 2inches and about 1 ounce when hatched. They are easy prey for crabs, mongoose, rats and other animals and few from each clutch survive to make it into the ocean. Another threat to these new turtles is the development of the shore and the artificial lights development brings. Theses bright lights often confuse the hatchlings and they crawl not towards the sea, but toward these lights and into dangers such as highways. Baby Hawaiian sea turtles will remain in the ocean until they reach about a foot in length then they return to the beach and start a cycle of swimming in the shore and sunning on their” home beach.”
Another cause of population decline involves a Hawaiian sea turtle disease called Fibropapillomatosis. This virus causes fibrous tumors to grow on the areas of soft tissues on the turtles. Not only confined to Hawaii- this virus is found worldwide. These tumors may also develop internally and affect the lungs, liver and kidneys as well as externally. Although primarily affecting the green turtle, it has been documented as involving all species currently. These tumors will continue to grow ,and especially internal tumors, eventually cause death. This virus is contagious and spread among sea turtles. Rescue Hospitals are seeing up to half of their incoming turtles as being afflicted with this hawaian sea turtle disease.