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Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Ka‘ū News Briefs, Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022

A hatchling comes out of its nest during a hawksbill hatchling season and scurries to the ocean on a remote Kaʻū beach.
Photo by Amy Krommes/Hawai'i Island Hawksbill Project
IT'S NESTING SEASON IN KAʻŪ FOR CRITICALLY ENDANGERED HAWKSBILL TURTLES. "Our first hatchling scurried to the ocean on July 3," says Amy Krommes, volunteer for the Hawaiʻi Island Hawksbill Project for seven turtle seasons. She said the nest was in a remote beach location.
   Krommes explains that nesting season begins in May when the female turtles start to lay their nests into late December when the last nest hatches. A female may lay three to five nests in one season. A nest on average contains 180 eggs. The eggs usually take 50 to 60 days to incubate depending on the temperature. Incubation temperature of the nest determines a hatchling's gender. Warmer nests produce females and
A hatchling from a nest on Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach makes its way
  to the Pacific Ocean on Oct. 2, 2018. The latest nesting
at Punaluʻu was later that year. Photo by Peter Bosted
cooler nests produce males.
    "Honuʻea, the Hawaiian Hawksbill Turtles, love Kaʻū," says Krommes. They are listed as critically endangered. These turtles do not travel around the world nor do other Hawksbill Turtles come to Hawaiʻi. Hawaiian Hawksbill Turtles are a unique population that nest on the Big Island, Maui and Molokaʻi. Roughly 90 percent of Hawaiian Islands nests are in Kaʻū. Nine Kaʻū beaches have been documented with nests over the last 30 years of monitoring. Two of these beaches have returning nesting turtles every year.
    Before hawksbill turtles were protected under the 1973 Endangered Species Act, their numbers dramatically declined from harvesting their beautiful shells. Even though protected, these turtles are still struggling to rebound and are considered critically endangered.  Even though their numbers are extremely low, nesting habitat is being lost due to people expanding their impact on beaches. Beach erosion also impacts their ability to come ashore and nest. 
The exodus. Dogged determination and strong instincts motivate the
hatchlings to get off the Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach and into the water. 
Photo by Annie Bosted at Punalu'u Black Sand Beach in 2018
    Five to 25 female Hawksbill turtles may nest in the Hawaiian Islands during one season, far fewer than the number of green sea turtles. The green sea turtles that bask on the beaches at Punaluʻu and elsewhere in the Hawaiian Islands swim some 700 miles to the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, including French Frigate Shoals, where 400 to 600 nest annually. 
     Since 1989, the Hawaiʻi Island Hawksbill Turtle Recovery Project has monitored the hawksbills, tagging them since 1991. In the past 30 years, 178 female turtles have been individually identified and tagged. In 2021, the Hawksbill Turtle Project documented 53 Hawksbill nests.
    Why do the Hawksbill love Kaʻū? "I believe it is the lack of artificial light and people activity at night," says Krommes. "Turtles usually return to the beach where they were born and imprinted as hatchlings. At night the nesting mother turtle leaves the ocean and searches the beach along the vegetation edge in search of a non-rocky area to dig her approximately 20-inch-deep nest. These turtles evolved to recognize their ocean home by the light reflecting off of the ocean. Both the mother turtles and baby hatchlings are hardwired to go towards the light.  
Volunteers with the Turtle Recovery Project release tiny hatchlings onto the
beach. They instinctively scurry towards the water, where they will spend the
rest of their lives, save for infrequent visits to the sand for egg-laying females.
Photo by Annie Bosted at Punalu'u Black Sand Beach in 2018.
    "After laying her eggs, covering up the nest the mother makes a direct line to the light. Similar to a moth being attracted to light. Stranded mothers have been found beneath lit porches and along streets. Baby turtles typically hatch as a team and leave the nest at night, they can sense when the sand is cooler. These hatchlings are also attracted by light and have been found going towards the light and away from the ocean."
    Krommes explains that mother turtles are also very sensitive to movement on the beach. "They recognize motion and if she feels vulnerable, she will not come up to lay her eggs. The mother turtle is carrying a heavy load of eggs and may watch for three days assessing the safety of the beach, she may find another beach close by to nest or she may release her eggs in the ocean.
    "Non-native plants such as coconut and haole koa create root barriers that prevent nesting turtles from digging suitable egg chambers and trap hatchlings from emerging. Introduced predators: mongooses, rats, and cats dig up turtle nests and eat eggs and hatchlings."
    In 2018, Punalu'u hosted five nests from two different mothers. One of the nesting females was tagged #H99 and last observed nine years earlier. It has been established that hawksbills do not nest every season. They return to the same shoreline from two to more than eight years for the next nesting.
Lifeguard stand area was the site of the latest hawksbill nest at Punaluʻu
 where Turtle Recovery Project volunteers, in 2018, carefully excavated to
free hatchlings unable to dig their way to the surface Photo by Annie Bosted
    Krommes recalls, "The last hatchlings at Punaluʻu emerged two weeks before Christmas. Over a few nights hatchlings trickled out of the nest. A nest excavation to assist the last straggling turtles occurred with a crowd of people building. Folks were able to witness the two-inch hatchlings scurrying across the beach, building up their muscles, charging their adrenaline, imprinting on the beach and marching in a parade-like manner to the ocean. Then being washed back a few times by the waves. Folks cheered, gave words of encouragement and waved goodbye."
    Krommes offers the following recommendations on helping the hawksbills survive:
    No white light at night. Use wildlife friendly lighting near the coast (red, yellow, amber and shielded lights.
     Limit beach fires. The light will keep turtles from coming up to lay a nest and the heat may be damaging nests that are present.
    Avoid beach driving. Off-road vehicles crush nests, compact the sand impeding nest building and create tire ruts that trap hatchlings.
    Prevent debris and rubbish from entering the ocean.
    Volunteer with a monitoring and conservation program. Contact the Hawaii Island Hawksbill project: info@hawaiiislandhawksbillproject.org.
    What to do when finding hatchlings? Krommes recommends: Assist them by smoothing a path to the ocean. Call 808-985-6090.

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A group of people at an overlook watch an erupting lava lake in the distance reflect a beautiful palette of pink, orange,
purple and red hues into the dark sky. Photo by Janice Wei
     In honor of the two-year anniversary of the signing of the #GreatAmericanOutdoorsAct, National Park Service entrance fees will be waived at all fee-collecting parks on Thursday, Aug. 4th.
    The Great American Outdoors Act, passed in August 2020, improves infrastructure and expanding recreation opportunities in national parks and other public lands. The legislation established the National Parks and Public Lands Legacy Restoration Fund and guaranteed permanent funding for the existing Land and Water Conservation Fund. Learn more at: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/infrastructure/gaoa.htm

Mauna Loa Road has reopened in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes
National Park. Photo by J.W. Frank
MAUNA LOA ROAD in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park has reopened. It has been closed to all vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians) past the gate at Kīpukapuaulu due to strong and hazardous winds. There were dead trees along the road, and snags from the 2018 Keauhou Fire that posed a threat to anyone in the area, said a statement from the Park.

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