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DLNR Responds to Reports of Sea Turtles Trapped by Lava

July 24, 2018, 12:38 PM HST
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Lava closes in on Pohoiki on July 12, 2018. Click to enlarge. PC: HFD

Recent social media posts have shown photos and expressions of concern for sea turtles reportedly trapped or affected by the East Rift Zone Eruption in the Kapoho and Pohoiki areas of the Big Island.

DLNR and NOAA Fisheries are aware of these postings, but so far there has been little actionable information.

One video posted depicted a single turtle swimming frantically in an area called Champagne Ponds in Kapoho. Unfortunately, that posting was forwarded to government agencies many days after the fact, after the area had already been covered by lava. At that time, access to the entire Kapoho area had already been restricted for safety reasons and those restrictions remain in place currently.

Postings have also expressed concerns about turtles around the Pohoiki Boat Ramp being overtaken by molten lava as it enters the ocean. The Hawai‘i County Fire Department conducted a fly-over shortly after the first reports and did not see any evidence of turtles in trouble.

During a DLNR flight last Tuesday, July 17, 2018, again, no turtles were spotted from the air or during a short land assessment around the boat ramp.

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Aerial surveys are a common monitoring technique employed by researchers worldwide; green turtles are easily spotted from low-flying helicopters.

Green sea turtles are listed as threatened or endangered. PC: Thierry Work, USGS

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Brian Neilson, acting administrator of the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources said, “The video posted on social media of the turtle in Champagne Pond is indeed very sad, and we very much wish the circumstances had allowed for a safe and effective response. We have since received a report of one dead stranded turtle on the beach that may also have been a victim of lava, but its location is uncertain and likely also not accessible to responders since access to the entire area is restricted.”

While it is unknown how many turtles may have lived in or around Kapoho or Pohoiki, it’s believed most turtles had access to the open ocean via channels or open fish pond gates, and that they were able to swim away and save themselves before being harmed by the lava flow.

“That said,” Neilson added, “we have learned some valuable lessons from recent events, and we have opened a discussion among relevant agencies regarding proactive measures for marine wildlife that may be possible going forward. We sympathize with people’s concerns about sea turtles; however, human safety is of primary concern and everyone should follow official guidance regarding access in the area.”

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For stranding responders to be able to assist, reports must be timely (ideally within a few hours), include photos, and involve a location that is accessible and safe for responders. NOAA’s statewide marine animal stranding and reporting hotline is: 1-888-256-9840. Additional information that is not time-sensitive can be sent via email (with photos) to [email protected] You can also report resource violations or issues to the 24-hour DLNR hotline, 643-DLNR (3567) or via the free downloadable DLNRTip App.

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