By Madeline M. Ziecker
Maui Ocean Center released five young honu (green sea turtles) into the ocean this morning, August 25 at 10:30 a.m., from the shores lining the Ka‘anapali Beach Hotel in Lahaina.
The five, 30 pound turtles were released into the ocean today through the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle Educational Loan Program, in partnership with Sea Life Park Hawaii. This program is designed to promote the public’s ocean awareness, which includes public events that allow personal interaction with marine life. As many as 36 healthy juvenile turtles have been released through the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle Educational Loan Program thus far.
The turtles released today were hatched at Sea Life Park in Oahu. The hatchlings were transferred to Maui Ocean Center in August 2009, where they were raised by many of the aquarium staff until their departure this morning into the open sea.
Some raise the question as to whether turtles raised in captivity are capable of fending for themselves when suddenly thrust into a new and larger environment. Not to fret, it is said that turtles have extraordinary instincts that guide them at sea.
Why keep them enclosed only until pre-adolescence? The green sea turtle in particular is labeled ‘at risk’ for extinction. Ensuring the lives of even a small number of turtles per year who are raised in captivity is a contribution to the continuation of the species.
Even after the turtles are released, they are still tracked by non-harmful microchips that are implanted in the turtles’ back flippers. The microchips include an electromagnetic code that can be identified by hand held scanners. When, and if, the turtles come back to the shore they will be easily identified as the turtles released in 2011 from Maui Ocean Center.
Curator for Maui Ocean Center John Gorman further illuminates the value of the process. “The turtles are healthy and ready to explore life in the open ocean. This is the first year we released from shore and it was exciting to have the community and visitors take part in this special event.”
The actual release of the turtles wasn’t the only special event. In addition, there were presentations from marine biologists and researchers, a blessing of the turtles, and information booths. A particularly beautiful concept is blessing the turtles.
Kate Zolezzi, General Manager at Maui Ocean Center, gave her thoughts on the blessing: “In Hawaiian culture, green sea turtles are considered na ‘aumakua, a family’s ancestral god or deity that takes the form of an animal.”
Those at the event included aquarium staff, Ka’anapali Shores Hotel guests and staff, members of the Maui community, staff of the Department of Land and Natural Resources-Division of Aquatic Resources, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center. Kelsey Daimon, Maui Ocean Center’s Marketing & Public Relations Director, says that at least 100 people were present.