In Florida, the only time that a sea turtle naturally comes on the beach is when adult females are nesting, and even then, it’s strictly business. They crawl out of the ocean, dig their nest, lay their eggs, and return to the water-the whole process takes about an hour. There are times when we find sea turtles on the beach during the day (not nesting); however, this is a sure sign that something is wrong and considered a “stranding.” Typically, the turtle is then taken back to our hospital for an evaluation and rehabilitation.
Just as people’s behaviors differ in different areas of the world, so does sea turtles. I had the chance to witness this first hand this past week while spending time in Maui. It may come as a surprise to many to learn that Hawaiian green turtles (honu) crawl onto shore to simply “bask”, a behavior where sea turtles crawl ashore for purposes other than nesting. I had the opportunity to work with the Hawai’i Wildlife Fund’s (HWF) Honu Watch Project to help monitor the basking honu (turtles) and educate beach goers.
It felt surreal to observe sea turtles (both male and female) of all sizes crawl out of the water to bask on the beach. We counted over 30 the evening I was there and they kept coming out. Possible reasons for the basking behavior is that it allows the turtles to rest, regulate their body temperature, and avoid predators (sharks).
Sea turtles are extremely vulnerable while basking. It’s important to remember that they are protected by the same laws protecting our sea turtles in Florida (Federal Endangered Species Act). If you happen to be visiting the Hawaiian Islands and come across a basking honu (turtle), please follow the following guidelines:
- Please do not approach closer than 15 ft.
- Avoid flash photography, as the flash disturbs them.
- Keep dogs on a leash as they can injure the turtles.
Just like LMC, The Hawai’i Wildlife Fund (HWF) depends heavily on volunteers and interns to fulfill it’s mission. Information regarding both programs can be found here on their website.