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Green sea turtles in Hawaii, by the numbers

by NOAA Fisheries on 6 Oct 2017
Green sea turtles bask along the shores of French Frigate Shoals, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marylou Staman / NOAA Fisheries
Can you imagine a 1,200-mile commute? Every year, many green sea turtles (or honu as they are locally known) make the 1,200-mile (1,931-kilometer) round-trip migration from foraging habitats in the main Hawaiian Islands to reproduce and nest at French Frigate Shoals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and then swim back again.

Since 1973, biologists with NOAA's Marine Turtle Biology and Assessment Program have also made the annual trip to remote French Frigate Shoals to monitor nesting activity. This summer, the field biologists started monitoring sea turtles in May and worked tirelessly for four months (usually at night) to count nests, tag nesting females, and count how many hatchlings emerge from nests. Hatchling information provides a measure of reproductive output—important information needed to more accurately assess the status and health of the population.



Program staff tagged every nesting female they encountered (called “saturation tagging”) and carefully etched a number on each turtle's shell. Turtles are now returning to the main Hawaiian Islands with these numbers on their shells. The public has a unique opportunity to act as citizen scientists to record numbered turtles and gather information to help better understand foraging habitats, migration, and distribution.



If you see a numbered turtle:

Keep a respectful distance of 10 feet (3 meters).
Take a photo (without disturbing the turtle).
Call NOAA to report the turtle’s number and location.

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