OCTOBER 26, 2021 – If you’re fortunate enough to spend some time in the ocean surrounding Marine Corps Base Hawaii, there’s a good chance you’ll spot a Hawaiian green sea turtle or two out for a swim. Once captured for their eggs, shells, and meat, the sea turtle population began to decrease many years ago. Thanks to the Endangered Species Act of 1973, this sea turtle became a protected animal and many of the practices that led to their population decline stopped.
Today, Hawaiian green sea turtles are both a threatened and protected species and because of this, scientists with Marine Corps Base Hawaii are spending significant time and resources to facilitate their nesting in order to increase their odds of survival.
“Turtle nesting is from May to November,” said Dain Christensen, a biological science technician with the MCBH Environmental Compliance and Protection Division. “MCBH has a significant portion of the island’s sea turtle nesting.”
This year alone MCBH has had 31 possible nests, and the environmental team on base works diligently with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, and Malama Na Honu, a non-profit 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,” said Christensen. “This is to ensure that everyone is aware, with signage, that it’s a sea turtle nest.”
Through the Endangered Species Act, capturing, harming, or getting too close to a sea turtle is punishable under federal law.
“Our goal is to ensure that we manage the nests so that they are successful and that they are not impacted by recreation or the military mission.” Keith Roberts, MCBH natural resources manager
“We watch the nests for 70 days, and at the 50 day mark, we prepare for the hatching to start,” said Keith Roberts, a natural resources manager with MCBH.
Occasionally, complications with the nest may occur, and that’s when the base environmental team steps in to lend a helping hand. Through careful excavation of the site, permitted scientists working with MCBH Environmental division attempt to rescue any stranded live hatchlings that cannot make their way out of the nest chamber.
“Another reason we excavate is to collect [biological] data,” explained Roberts. “We try to get an understanding of the success rate, genetics, mortality, and size of the nest.”
Data that is collected helps the environmental team determine more efficient ways to manage sea turtle nests and is also 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 like porches, windows, and driveways can oftentimes confuse and disorient the baby sea turtles, the environmental team at MCBH has tried to raise awareness about making small changes like turning off all non-essential outdoor lights, closing blinds, and installing turtle-friendly lighting to help prevent confusing the baby sea turtles.
By darkening the coastline, more sea turtle hatchlings will find their way out to sea as they are supposed to do instead of being disoriented and moving inland which leads to an inevitable death.
MCBH takes their role of protecting the natural wildlife and landscape of Oahu very seriously. The environmental team on base is proud to protect such an iconic and beloved animal here in Hawaii.
By Lance Cpl. Isaiah Hill | Marine Corps Base Hawaii