FACT OF THE WEEK: Hawksbill turtles are nesting on Maui

MORE ON THIS: In Hawai‘i, Hawksbill turtles mostly nest on Hawai‘i Island, but Maui is home to some of the nesting beaches for ten of these turtles.  Beginning around age 20, a female will return to the area where she was born between May and October every 3 to 9 years to lay her eggs.  Hawksbills will nest at night and will lay 2-5 sets of eggs, or clutches, in the same season. Each clutch will be laid approximately 16-23 days apart.  To lay eggs, the turtle will haul out onto a beach to find a suitable area, dig a deep pit using her flippers, and then fill the pit with her eggs.  A single clutch averages 180 eggs.  Once she is done laying her eggs, she will use her flippers to fill the hole in with sand before returning to the sea.

Adult Hawksbill Turtle. Photo courtesy of Cheryl King, Hawaii Wildlife Fund.

Adult Hawksbill Turtle. Photo courtesy of Cheryl King, Hawaii Wildlife Fund.

After approximately 60 days, the eggs will hatch and tiny turtles will begin racing towards the sea.  This is one of the most dangerous times in their life and many don’t make it, except for on Maui where Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund closely monitors each nest to ensure each hatchling crawls to the ocean safely.  A variety of larger animals such as crabs or birds will prey on the small turtles as they make their way to the water.  Hawksbill turtles are listed as endangered throughout the world, including in Hawai‘i, largely in part because of humans.  They have been exploited for many years for tortoise shell, which is thought to make beautiful décor.  Other threats include habitat loss from coastal development, marine debris, being caught as fishing by-catch and light pollution.

What is being done to help these turtles?  Organizations such as Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund, NOAA, and US Fish and Wildlife Service have built turtle fences to prevent turtles from crossing roads, and created annual nesting and hatching patrols.  They are also working with local home owners, businesses and resorts to reduce coastal lighting that may prevent turtles from nesting on beaches and/or confuse hatching turtles and cause them to head inland instead of out towards the sea.  With these efforts, hawksbill turtle populations will hopefully be on the rise.

Sea turtles are protected under state law and the US endangered species act. It is illegal to harass, kill or capture a sea turtle. If you ever spot a hawksbill on the beach, take a photo of one while swimming, or would like to be a volunteer to help with nesting and hatching patrols, please contact Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund at (808)280-8124 or [email protected]

FURTHER READING:

  1. Hawai‘i Wildlife Watching Guide: Sea turtles. 2010. Pacific Whale Foundation. Available online: http://www.pacificwhale.org/sites/pacificwhale.org/files/Sea-Turtles-Guide.pdf
  2. Hawksbill Sea Turtle. 2014. Florida: US Fish and Wildlife Service. Available online: http://www.fws.gov/northflorida/seaturtles/turtle%20factsheets/hawksbill-sea-turtle.htm
  3. Hawaiian Hawksbill Sea Turtles. N.D. NOAA-NMFS and Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund. Available online: http://wildhawaii.org/documents/hawaiian_hawksbill_brochure.pdf

Written by Sarah Mousel

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