Green sea turtles in Hawaiian waters are making a comeback!
To me, this is great news. I fell in love with sea turtles the first time we came to Honokowai and there was a great, big mother of a resident turtle in the bay. I don’t say “mother” to be rude, I mean she was a mother! Apparently, you can tell by the width of the tail. The females have a thinner one. Yes, we could get that close! By her size she had to be at least 35 years old and reaching sexual maturity.
On our next visit , a year later, the fact she was a woman become very obvious when another, smaller turtle joined our resident and they mated. “How do green sea turtles mate?” you asked. The answer is, “Very carefully and very, very slowly.”
As with almost everything in their life cycle, turtles mate at sea. These ones started by getting in close proximity, sliding fippers across each other, then rubbing with flat bottom shells together. This is all done near the top of the water, I suppose so they can take a breath easily when they need to. However, this also makes them very prone to the vagaries of the breaking waves, so they were often pulled apart. Eventually, if they were lucky, the male crawls up on the females body. A big roller would then pull them apart again. Each one would go off in different directions to nibble on seaweed encrusted rocks and then they would find each other again. The whole process took all afternoon. A feat I think many men should aspire to!
The next year, surprise! There were more turtles! They were too old to be our matriach’s offspring but perhaps the word had spread that this was a good vacation site not only for humans but for turtles!
The year after that, we started seeing green sea turtles at other than our little sanctuary.
A visit to the Maui Aquarium confirmed it. The population of green sea turtles was on the rise! One thing that has tipped the balance is that a turtle washed up dead on local shores. During the autopsy, it was discovered that his stomach was full of plastic bags. Turtles are one of the few creatures that can eat jellyfish. A plastic bag in the ocean, rocked by waves, looks a lot like a jellyfish. This poor turtle had such a belly full his brain told him he was full and he starved to death. Since 2011, plastic bags have been banned on Maui. Yes!!
There are other problems, however.
While snorkelling, I bumped into one of these “floating rocks,” which is highly unusual because they are much better at avoiding us then we are of them. Upon closer observation, I realized this fellow had lost his left flipper. When I asked the expert at the Maui Aquarium he said the loss could have been caused by fishing nets but most likely it was a close encounter of the shark variety.
More insidious, perhaps,are mysterious tumours that are appearing on turtles, especially in populated locations like Hawaii. I had noticed just such a growth on the mouth of one the older male turtles near our rental. These tumours, called fibropapilloma, depending on their location, can make it difficult for the turtle to see, swim, or, as in the case of our turtle, to eat. No one really knows what causes these tumours, but some sort of pollution, like sewage, seems to be the most likely suspect.
So the battle is not over yet, but in Maui waters at least, green sea turtles are becoming more and more common. Well done, turtles!