If you’re lucky enough to spend time in the ocean surrounding the Hawaii Marine Corps Base, there’s a good chance you’ll spot a Hawaiian green sea turtle or two swimming around. Once captured for their eggs, shellfish and meat, the sea turtle population began to decline many years ago. Thanks to the Endangered Species Act of 1973, this sea turtle became a protected animal and many practices that led to their population decline have ceased.
Today, Hawaiian green turtles are both an endangered and protected species and for this reason scientists at the Marine Corps Base in Hawaii devote a great deal of time and resources to facilitating their nesting in order to increase their chances. survival.
“Turtle nesting takes place from May to November,” said Dain Christensen, a biological science technician in MCBH’s Compliance and Environmental Protection division. “MCBH has an important part of the island’s sea turtle nesting.”
This year alone, the MCBH has had 31 possible nests, and the base environmental team is working diligently with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, and Malama Na Honu, a nonprofit organization for sea turtles, to locate, monitor and protect these nests.
“When a nest is discovered, we set up a high visibility perimeter around it,” Christensen said. “This is to make sure everyone is aware, with the signage, that this is a sea turtle nest.”
Under the Endangered Species Act, capturing, injuring, or getting too close to a sea turtle is punishable under federal law.
“Our goal is to make sure we manage the nests so that they are successful and not affected by recreation or the military mission. “ Keith Roberts, MCBH Natural Resources Manager
“We monitor the nests for 70 days, and after 50 days we prepare for the start of the outbreak,” said Keith Roberts, head of natural resources at MCBH.
Sometimes complications with the nest can arise, and that’s when the base environmental team steps in to lend a hand. Through a careful excavation of the site, authorized scientists working with MCBH’s environmental division are attempting to save any live stranded hatchlings that cannot exit the nest chamber.
“Another reason we dig is to collect [biological] data, ”Roberts explained. “We are trying to understand the success rate, genetics, mortality and nest size.”
The data collected helps the environmental team determine more effective ways to manage sea turtle nests and is also being added to a Hawaiian Islands database to help support ongoing research efforts.
During the hatching process, baby sea turtles use natural sources of light such as the moon to guide them to the ocean. Since coastal lights from sources such as porches, windows, and walkways can often confuse and disorient baby sea turtles, MCBH’s environmental team attempted to raise awareness of the need for small changes like turning off all non-essential exterior lights, close blinds, and installation of turtle-friendly lighting to avoid confusing baby sea turtles. By darkening the coastline, more sea turtle hatchlings will find their way out to sea as they are supposed to instead of being disoriented and moving inland, resulting in inevitable death.
MCBH takes its role in protecting Oahu’s natural wildlife and landscape very seriously. The base environmental team takes pride in protecting such an iconic and beloved animal here in Hawaii.