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Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles (3/3)
Honu Life Cycle
Green sea turtles are the largest of the hard-shelled turtles and the only member of the genus Chelonia. They can grow up to 3 feet in length and generally weigh between 300 and 350 pounds. However, they start out life weighing about an ounce and measuring only 2 inches long.
Adult female turtles return to land in order to lay their eggs. Scientists believe that nesting female turtles return to the same beach where they were born. In Hawaii, it is estimated that 90% of the Hawaiian population of sea turtles is born on French Frigate Shoals.
Green sea turtles only nest at night. The females drag themselves from the water using their front flippers and then dig a large pit in the sand. The lay about 100 leathery-skinned eggs and then cover them carefully with sand to hide their location.
The young are left to fend from themselves. The eggs incubate for roughly two months. Then the baby turtles break through the eggshell with a specialized egg tooth on their beaks (similar to a chicken). They then have the challenge of digging out of the nest, which they usually accomplish as a team. The hatchlings scrape away at the roof of the next until they surface on the beach.
After they emerge, the hatchlings find their way to the ocean guided by the moonlight. They swim continuously for the next day and a half to reach the feeding areas.
The life span of the green sea turtle remains unknown. Honu grow very slowly in the wild and they can take from 10 to 50 years to reach sexual maturity. The mature females lay eggs every 2 to 4 years. This long period of maturation and infrequent nesting makes it particularly hard for the green sea turtle population to rebound after catastrophes.
Threats to Green Sea Turtles
The green sea turtle is not native exclusively to the Hanauma Bay region. They live in many different parts of the world. They are classified as endangered in Florida and along the Pacific coast of Mexico. They are considered threatened in all other areas, which include Hawaii, Southern California, the United Kingdom and Borneo.
Marine debris and coastal development are two of the biggest threats to the honu. Fortunately, the Hawaiian government has taken massive steps toward preserving the species. It has become a mascot for the islands of sorts, and many high school and higher education institutions take part in conservation efforts.
You can do your part when visiting Hawaii by reporting any nesting, basking, injured or dead sea turtles that you see to the Hawaii State Department of Land and Natural Resources. This helps researchers keep track of turtle populations and help preserve the species. Also, observing safety rules while snorkeling and obeying all wildlife laws will help keep the honu here for many generations to come.