Turtle-Watchers Reminded to Show Respect
State wildlife officials are asking the public to act respectfully when viewing Hawaii’s sea turtles.
Some beaches across the state have become popular locations to view turtles “basking” or at rest.
“Although this provides an excellent viewing opportunity, it is important to act responsibly and keep a respectful distance,” the state Department of Land and Natural Resources said.
The DLNR is suggesting a buffer of at least six feet to allow the turtles to rest undisturbed.
The public is urged to completely avoid touching the turtles in any way or otherwise harassing them.
“We want to remind the community that all sea turtles are protected, and that both state and federal consequences apply to anyone harming green sea turtles,” said DLNR Director William Aila Jr.
Punalu`u, a black-sand beach in Ka`u, is the best known location on the Big Island for basking honu or green sea turtles, but they are increasingly being seen at many other locations.
Honu, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, are the primary sea turtles seen in Hawaii. However, the state is also home to the honu`ea, or Hawaiian hawksbill turtle, which is listed as endangered.
With rare exceptions, honu swim to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to nest, while honu`ea nest mostly on remote beaches on the Big Island, with some nesting occurring on Maui and other islands.
Over the past 25 years, the dedicated efforts of the Hawaii Island Hawskbill Turtle Recovery Project have helped increase the population of Hawaiian hawksbills, but their numbers remain small, with the number of females documented at less than 150.
The DLNR said while turtle numbers are increasing, they still face a variety of threats, including destruction and alteration of nesting and feeding areas, incidental capture in commercial and recreational fisheries, entanglement in and ingestion of marine debris, poaching, disease, vessel strikes and climate change.
In Hawaii, sea turtles are protected by the Hawaii Revised Statutes (Chapter 195D) and Hawai‘i Administrative Rules (13-124).
Although federal and state wildlife conservation laws differ in some respects, state officials say all prohibit actions that can harm, injure, kill, or otherwise disturb sea turtles without a permit. Feeding or touching turtles in any way is considered a disturbance and therefore illegal.