VIDEO: Six Turtles Released from Maui Aquarium
Six Hawaiian green sea turtles (honu) were released off the coast of Maui during a private ceremony on Thursday, marking the conclusion of the turtles’ residency at the Maui Ocean Center’s Aquarium.
For the six honu, Maluhia, Mohalu, Kao Lele, Lipaki, Koa, and Kunoa, it was their first introduction to the open sea where they will continue life in their natural environment.
Hatched at Sea Life Park on July 4, 2015, the honu were raised at Maui Ocean Center through the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle Educational Loan Program, enabling guests to learn about the challenges Hawaii’s endangered turtles face in the wild.
“Since 1998, we’ve raised and released 72 Hawaiian green sea turtles,” said John Gorman, Head Curator at Maui Ocean Center, “These turtles play a significant role in educating guests about Hawaiʻi’s endangered sea turtles while creating a connection that fosters understanding, wonder, and respect for our local wildlife.”
The Aquarium’s Holomua Nā Honu Turtle Release was a private ceremony held at an undisclosed, offshore location to provide the turtles with a safe, stress-free release. In partnership with Ali‘i Nui Sailing Charters, a small group of Aquarium staff sailed to the release site. Honored guests Kelly King, South Maui Councilmember, Rob Parsons, Maui County Environmental Coordinator, and George Balazs, IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group Co-Chair of the Oceania Region, were also in attendance.
The release came full circle for many who have been with the turtles since their arrival as hatchlings. Kahu Dane Maxwell, who blessed the honu when they first arrived at the Aquarium, presided over a final blessing asking for guidance and the turtles’ acceptance into their new home. For the aquarists who raised and cared for the turtles over the past two years, it was a bittersweet moment as they placed each turtle into the water and watched them swim away from sight.
“We’ve all formed a bond and relationship with these animals,” Gorman added, “We look forward to the day we meet again.”
In previous years, Maui Ocean Center used GPS transmitters to track individual turtles. The transmitters lasted approximately 200-300 days providing the locations of where the honu were traveling; while the majority stayed in proximity to Maui Nui, one individual traveled to the Island of Hawaiʻi and Oʻahu. It was noted that the released turtles settled in coastal areas regularly used by wild green sea turtles, a strong indication the turtles were able to successfully adapt to their new environment.
Although none of the recent turtles are equipped with a GPS transmitter, they are outfitted with Passive Integrated Transponder tags that allow them to be identified as turtles released by Maui Ocean Center. Their shells are marked with “MOC” and numbers 1-6. The public is asked to keep an eye out for these turtles and report any sightings including the day, time, and location by contacting Maui Ocean Center at (808) 270-7075 or [email protected]
Partners and sponsors supporting this year’s turtle release included: Sea Life Park Hawaii, Ali‘i Nui Sailing Charters, Maui Oil Company, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources, and Seascape Restaurant.