Rotating speaker discusses Maui sea turtle rescue / rehabilitation

Marine turtle conservation technician Chanel Browne with an injured green turtle brought to Maui’s Marine Institute for rehabilitation. Courtesy photo

By LINDA HULL
Vice president
Rotary Club of Los Alamos

“We inspire lifelong environmental stewardship,” began Chanel Browne, sea turtle conservation technician for the Marine Institute at the Maui Ocean Center (MOC). During the August 31 meeting of the Rotary Club of Los Alamos, she described the mission of the Institute, via Zoom from Hawaii.

“We are ensuring the survival of coral reefs and sea turtles in Hawaii through science-based conservation efforts, education and awareness,” Brown said.

Founded in 2016, the MOC Marine Institute actively focuses on the rescue and rehabilitation of the sea turtles. These marine reptiles are air-breathing vertebrates that lay eggs in sandy nests dug in beaches and low dunes. During the nesting season, a female sea turtle can lay eggs up to 100 eggs in each of the three to seven nests she can dig.

Emerging from their eggs, which resemble ping-pong balls, hatchlings of sea turtles scurry from their nests to the water’s edge and into the vast expanse of the ocean.

Those who escape hungry predators “swim to offshore areas where they live for several years, also known as the ‘lost years’ before returning to reefs and sheltered areas closer to shore.

As adults, “they migrate from the feeding grounds to the nesting beaches where they were hatched, traveling hundreds and even thousands of kilometers in each direction ”.

Although sea turtles are only occasionally injured by boats, they are regularly injured by abandoned fishing lines, hooks and nets. To help prevent these encounters between fishing gear and marine animals, the MOC Marine Institute has created the Fishing Line Recycling Program, giving ‘anglers a highly visible and proactive approach to reducing entanglement dangers ”which trap not only sea turtles, but also seals, sharks, dolphins and manta rays, and catch fragile coral.

Last year alone, the program raised more than 20 miles of recycled fishing line, Browne said, adding that the line and nets with their matching accessories and hooks are weighed, measured and recorded in a database.

Reports of injured sea turtles, Browne said, can be made to the MOC Marine Institute at no cost Hotline for sea turtle strandings. The MOC Marine Institute is the only facility licensed under NOAA Fisheries in Maui to answer such calls. (NOAA stands for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.) Callers are asked to describe the location of the turtle, with GPS data if available, the approximate size of the turtle and the type of injury. The date and time are also recorded.

When a call for an injured sea turtle arrives, their certified personnel are then deployed to the ocean site where they lift the turtle onto a raft. “Riding the turtle on the raft is the most difficult part of the rescue, ”said Browne,“ as sea turtles can weigh up to 400 pounds. and measure up to four feet long. This is especially true of the green turtle, the largest species of the hard-shelled sea turtle family and most common in Hawaiian waters.

Once the turtle is brought ashore, it is transported to the Marine Institute for treatment.

Treatment may include general first aid for wounds, surgery, therapeutic laser treatments, massage therapy to increase circulation in the fins and nutritional supplements.

Before the sea turtles are released, which Browne described as the “best day,” they are tagged with a tracking device in their hind fins, and their shells are marked with an alpha-numeric code for record keeping.

To promote the conservation of marine life, the MOC Marine Institute offers educational programs for high school students to work with biologists and educators from the Marine Institute in activities involving the rescue and rehabilitation of marine turtles, restoration of coral reefs, research projects and careers in oceanography.

Another program, the Honu Hero Beach Cleanup, “allows residents and visitors to Maui to take a hands-on approach to protect our marine environments while enjoying the time with their family and friends. ”A beach cleaning kit includes a container for debris, a technical sheet, clipboard, pencils and gloves.

To learn more about the Marine Institute at Maui Ocean Center, visit https://mocmarineinstitute.org/. There you can donate to the association or symbolically adopt a sea turtle, making a “better day” for another rescued and rehabilitated Honu.

Fun facts from the Marine Institute, Maui Ocean Center:

  • Honu is Hawaiian for sea turtle. They are considered sacred, “embodying good luck, protection, endurance and long life.
  • The green turtle owes its name to the color of its body fat, not its shell. The diet of sea turtles algae, seagrass and seaweed contributes to the color of the fat.
  • Although sea turtles must surface for fresh air, they can stay underwater for four to seven hours to rest or sleep.
  • The sea turtle’s front fins are used for swimming; the rear fins as rudders.
  • Sea turtles have a very strong sense of smell.
  • Green turtles can live at least 70 years.
  • Sea turtles have salt glands near their eyes that excrete excess salt consumed from the sea the water.
  • The hawksbill turtle is the second most common sea turtle in Hawaii.
  • Sea turtles in Hawaii bask in the sun on local beaches. This behavior is only observed in two other places, Australia and the Galapagos Islands.
  • The other three types of sea turtles found in Hawaii are the olive ridley, leatherback turtle and loggerhead.

Chanel Browne, who was born and raised in Hawaii, received her Bachelor of Science degree in marine biology and biological oceanography from Humboldt State University in Arcata, California. She studied the rocky intertidal areas of northern California shores and the Coral reefs in Maui, Hawaii.

The Rotary Club of Los Alamos meets in person, Tuesdays from noon to 1 p.m., in the community hall, Cottonwood on the golf course greens. A Zoom option is available by contacting Rotary Club Vice President Linda Hull at 505.662.7950. Hull is also happy to provide information on the Club and its humanitarian service.


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