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Called Honu by Hawaii’s natives, the Hawaiian Green Sea turtle is beautiful, serene and seeming wise. Though they have swum the oceans for over 200 million years peacefully feeding on algae and invertebrates and living the turtle dream, this highly successful product of amphibian evolution is in grave danger. Loss of habitat, hunting and molestation by humans has conspired to push the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle to the very verge of extinction.

Protected now by state and federal law, the population of once millions of individuals has been decimated to just a few hundred thousand; although they are making a comeback Hawaii’s honu are still very much endangered.

Honu may grow up to 45 inches and weigh as much as 400 pounds at maturity, reached at 25 years of age. Hawaiian Green sea turtles can easily be differentiated from the other near shore sea turtle in Hawaii, the much less common Hawksbill turtle, by counting the scales between the eyes. Hawksbills have four scales between the eyes and Hawaiian Green Sea turtles have two.

Lady honu crawl on shore to lay their eggs, generally after migration to the quieter shores of the French Frigate Shoals, 800 miles northwest of Hawaii, or the black sand beaches on the south end of the Big Island of Hawaii.

Danger to the turtles comes from a myriad of directions; toxic waste, floating balloons and plastic bags, Styrofoam, plastic six-pack rings, abandoned fish nets and line, not to mention getting caught in active fishing operations. As if this weren’t bad enough, new and debilitating diseases are afflicting the Hawaiian green sea turtle. Near public beaches, resorts and other areas heavily impacted by human activity as many as 90% of the turtles are dying slow, painful deaths from tumors, infections and other diseases as well as parasites which attack the diseased flesh.

Humans have caused this misery and the decline in these magnificent creatures lives…visitors who wish to see the turtles must take care not to further stress them. Do not approach basking turtles closely, never touch or pick them up. Harassing turtles carries a stiff fine and in any case, touching the turtle is a good way to get a raging salmonella infection. If honu are swimming near where you are, do not approach or chase them; always swim to the side of them, never above (as a predatory shark would) nor below them (so they won’t feel that their soft belly is at risk).

Anyone who observes their beauty and grace underwater easily understands how the Hawai’ians base their word for “peace”, “honua” on their name for the green sea turtle, “honu”.

It is within our grasp, this generation, to save or destroy forever these ancient animals; treat them gently and with respect.

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