Get to Know the Majestic Honu
The Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle, or honu, is a remarkable creature. The gentle reptiles are known for their ability to gracefully glide through the ocean with their paddle-like flippers and are often spotted feasting on algae close to shore while occasionally bobbing their heads up for air.
These slow-moving, yet skilled swimmers were once a food source – along with their eggs – for the Hawaiians and became severely over-harvested when westerners arrived on the islands in the 1800s and 1900s. Due to these circumstances, their population rapidly declined and they were listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 1978. To this day, although their population has begun to climb again, they are still listed as endangered species.
The odds are in your favor of seeing honu if you’re out in the water snorkeling or scuba diving. They are not as likely to venture to shore, especially on densely populated beaches. When they do make their way to land to soak in the sun, however, they can sometimes be hard to spot as their brown shells resemble Hawaii’s large lava rocks. A good place to see honu on Oahu is at Laniakea Beach on the North Shore.
Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles, considered aumakua (ancestral deities) to some Hawaiian families, reach lengths of around three to four feet and typically weigh between 200 to 500 pounds. When they reach sexual maturity between approximately 25 to 30 years, the female honu will journey to shore every two to three years to dig pits in the sand and lay her eggs (around 100). More than 90 percent of these sea turtles nest in the French Frigate Shoals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. As babies, honu are omnivorous and eat a variety of food including plants and crustaceans. When they become adults, Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles primarily feed on algae. A healthy honu can live between 60 and 80 years.
While they are still a legally protected species, honu face serious environmental threats like abandoned fishing lines and nets, boat propellers, disease and the destruction of their nesting habitats.
If you’re lucky enough to spot one, remember to respectfully admire these gorgeous creatures from a considerable distance whether you’re on land or in the sea.
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