HALEIWA, Hawaii --
In the Hawaiian culture, the sea turtle (honu) represents longevity, due to its long life span. Protecting the turtles to ensure their existence and habitat has become increasingly important on Oahu because Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles have become a threatened species. There is a way to get involved through volunteering.
The Malama na Honu organization, which translates to “care for the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles,” is a nonprofit organization created in 2007 to protect the Hawaiian sea turtles through education, public awareness and conservation. More than 60 volunteers, known as Honu Guardians, concentrate their efforts on the North Shore Laniakea Beach near Haleiwa Town.
Vickie DelaCruz, a volunteer with Malama na Honu, said it’s important to protect the beached turtles because of the large amount of tourists who visit the area to see them.
“We conducted a survey last year to see how many tourists visit this beach,” DelaCruz said. “We counted approximately 600,000 people throughout the year. That’s a huge amount of people who need to be educated. Some think the turtles are stuck and try to drag them back to the ocean. The turtles beach themselves to warm up in the sun. It’s important for everyone to understand these awesome creatures.”
DelaCruz explained that the major job of the volunteers is protecting the beached turtles and providing education to the visitors. Volunteers help in three-hour shifts twice a month any day of the week, but they can choose more shifts. All new volunteers complete a one-hour initial training session followed by two shadowing shifts of other volunteers.
“It’s fun to be out with tourists and even local folks because some have never seen what’s in their backyard,” DelaCruz said. “I love seeing people from all over the world. Volunteering here is a rewarding experience. I’m happy to be here every time I come.”
The turtles at Laniakea Beach, like all green sea turtles in the Hawaiian Islands, were born 500 miles northwest on the French Frigate Shoals beaches. Since they nest and reproduce in the same area they were born, the turtles will return there to mate and lay their eggs. They can live up to 70 years old, have a 40-inch long shell and weigh 400 pounds.
The green sea turtle is protected under the Endangered Species Act and Hawaii state law. For more information on turtles and volunteering with Malama na Honu, visit www.turtles.org/hawgrnd.htm and malamanahonu.org/index.asp.