Hawaii Wildlife /Hawksbill Sea Turtles
Kihei, HI 96753, USA
Photo courtesy of magicoftravel.blog
Sleeping with the Turtles..Protecting Endangered speciesWhile on a recent trip to Maui this September, a local friend signed me up as a volunteer to guard endangered Hawksbill sea turtle nests. The Hawaii Wildlife Fund strives to protect these ancient creatures as they return to their birth place to lay their nests. Hawksbills are a critically endangered species due mostly to human impact. It is important for baby sea turtles to imprint at birth so that they will return one day to lay their own eggs.
My Maui friend forgot to mention that the job involved sleeping on a beach inhabited by centipedes and scorpions. This lent an African atmosphere to our adventure.
Orion, the mother turtle, was named after the constellation which appeared overhead the night she laid her 170 eggs on a secluded beach near Wailea.The location of the nest is not revealed to the public during the nesting period to protect the eggs, but often the mother chooses a public spot attracting curious beachgoers. While in a two-hour trancelike state, Orion produced her leathery eggs and then returned to the sea, her job done.
These eggs were buried deep in the sand, but still vulnerable to local predators such as mongoose, birds and crabs. The Hawaii Wildlife Fund protects these nests by sitting guard 24 hours a day during the fall nesting season.
We took two-hour shifts over several nights retreating to hammocks or sleeping bags, napping to the rhythm a pounding surf. Locked in by park officials for 10 hours, we were alone with other volunteers and multitudes of wildlife.
The experience was thrilling especially on the night I was guarding the nest, Orion's Belt overhead, as the agile babies emerged out of the grave. Like spiders they scurried toward the ocean. No flashlights or cell phones were allowed as they could sidetrack the turtles who needed to navigate their way with only the light of the horizon. As they journeyed, four turtles were caught in a crab's den. A marine biologist was able to rescue them and they reached the sea a few moments later.
Only a tiny percent of babies survive to adulthood. Orion proved to be a fruitful breeder producing over 700 eggs during the fall. Perhaps her progeny will return to the same beach one day ensuring the survival of this rare and beautiful turtle.