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Turtle Love

Article by Judy Edwards

Nearly every visitor to Maui is smitten by Turtle Love almost immediately. Some people arrive here predisposed to fall in love—they've seen photos or video of sea turtles and are primed for that first encounter. Some people, and I was one of them so many years ago, don't think much about sea turtles until they first lay eyes on one. And then, it hits: the wowness. Next thing you know, it's a sea turtle tattoo over your heart.

What you will most likely see here, if you pay attention to the water even a little, is the Hawaiian green sea turtle, or honu.

Honu abound these days, and that itself is a tad miraculous, as in the not-so-far-away 1970s it looked like we might lose them. They taste good, apparently. Seaside societies have harvested them for millennia. Between one thing and another in the Hawaiian Isles—such as development on nesting beaches—the pressures on green sea turtle's reproductive success were growing faster than these sweet, slow cows of the sea (a sea turtle day: munch on seaweed/algae, breathe, then nap) than could keep up.

Federal protection came along in the nick of time, in the 1970s, with the Endangered Species Act (yay, Congress!) and our sleepy-looking, algae-grazing, coast-hugging greens started a comeback.

If you are a very lucky person and have eaten all your vegetables and said your nightly prayers, you might also, maybe, possibly (cross your fingers) see a hawksbill sea turtle, or honuea.

Rare, so very rare, these sea turtles were once hunted for their fabulous shells. You know that fake-ola plastic stuff they make combs, mirror backs, and brush handles out of and call it 'tortoiseshell'? That used to come off the backs of hawksbills. We nearly lost them all as a result. In fact, we've still barely got them. One estimate puts hawksbills in Hawaiian waters as less than 100 nesting females. So keep your eyes peeled. Unlike the greens, which are grazers on seaweed, hawksbills eat sponges (seems a bit dry and underwhelming, but whatever). Like the greens, however, they spend the majority of the time napping. Hawksbills have big, brown eyes and a distinctively hooked face, hence the name. Their shells have more of a jagged edge, too.

  read more: Active Turtle Alert >>