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Honu hatch at Pacific Missile Range Facility

MANA — The Public Affairs Office at the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Mana announced the recent success of sea turtles hatching from the only sea turtle nest on the military base for this year.

Green sea turtles, or honu, nest on beaches in the general area of where they had hatched years prior states the PMRF announcement. The shoreline at PMRF is ideal for nests, since it is a protected and quiet location with limited human activity and light pollution.

The turtle nesting season in Hawai‘i runs from mid-April to September, but can extend into December.

Some time during the summer, a honu crawled its way to the sandy incline, dragging what could be its 300-pound body to the ideal spot for a nest.

“Flapping its flippers and tossing sand aside, the turtle dug a hole and deposited 80 Ping-Pong ball-sized eggs,” PMRF PAO Officer Lisa Ferdinando said. “With daylight revealing the telltale evidence in the sand, biologists at PMRF cordoned off the area on the southern end of the airfield, and waited.”

The team of partners working with PMRF included the United States Department of Agriculture, the Pacific Cooperative Study Unit at the University of Hawai‘i, the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Aquatic Resources, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

They all joined the wait for 56 days, while the eggs incubated in the warm sands of the military base located in Mana on the leeward coast of Kaua‘i.

“The airfield green sea turtle nest hatched,” announced PMRF Natural Resources Manager Brooke McFarland on Sept. 14 after confirming the tracks leading to the ocean.

Sea turtles emerge from their nest en masse, oftentimes under the cover of darkness to avoid predators. The baby turtles rush to the brightest spot on the horizon as quickly as their little flippers will take them, moving away from the dark silhouettes of the dunes and vegetation.

“It is always an exciting event when a nest hatches, knowing we did our part to protect this majestic creature and aid in the survival of this animal that is protected under the Endangered Species Act,” said Stephen Rossiter, the natural resources field coordinator for PMRF.

Green sea turtles face danger as a result of artificial lights that can cause nesting mothers, or hatchlings, to move toward artificial light inland instead of ocean, facing danger when they could perish from dehydration, car strikes, predators and exhaustion.

Despite making it to the safety of the ocean, honu face other threats, including becoming entangled in fishing nets, injured or killed in vessel strikes, degradation of ocean and nesting habitats, ingesting marine pollution that can cause injury or death, disease, or become target of illegal poaching, and in some countries, the legal harvesting of turtles and their eggs.

“These honu face many threats, so it is great news that we at PMRF could provide a safe place for this nest, away from predators, and free of the light pollution that can disorient hatchlings as they make their way to the sea,” Rossiter said.

Following the successful hatching, the team of PMRF biologists Katy Finney and Daniela Casillas were joined by Mimi Olry, the DLNR Kaua‘i Marine Mammal Response Coordinator, and Jamie Thornton, the NOAA Kaua‘i Marine Mammal Response Coordinator, in excavating the nest site where they discovered 76 hatched eggs and four unhatched not viable eggs.

“This has been the only sea turtle nest on the installation this year,” said Rossiter after screening the nesting site area for any wayward turtle hatchlings.

Finding none, the team of biologists believe that 76 turtles made it to the ocean, describing the event as very successful.
Source: The Garden Island

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