Study and Recovery of Hawaiian Green Turtle Population Celebrates 40 Years of Data

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In the 1970s, Hawaiian green turtles faced near extinction due primarily to unregulated commercial hunting. An article featured in the journal Chelonian Conservation and Biology documents the resurgence of the Hawaiian green turtle population, which has more than 4,000 breeding females today.

Chelonian Conservation and Biology Volume 14 Issue 2

I am extremely encouraged and confident that the resiliency and durability of the Hawaiian green turtle population can overcome any reasonable challenges it may face, so long as human take is sustainable

Four decades of research on Hawaiian green turtles (Chelonia mydas) are consolidated in this comprehensive review article, offering new and updated demographic information. The data collected show how the green turtle has rebounded from near extinction in the 1970s to a population of about 4,000 breeding females today.

The scope of research conducted during these years is detailed in the journal Chelonian Conservation and Biology. The Hawaiian Institute of Marine Biology and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began studying the green turtle in 1973 by monitoring and tagging nesting turtles. In 1982, a marine turtle research program within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) started studying sea turtle strandings and necropsying dead turtles. A companion program launched in 1990 sought to rescue, rehabilitate, and conduct clinical research on stranded turtles.

Early research showed that unregulated commercial hunting of Hawaiian green turtles, primarily for the restaurant trade, was unsustainable. Preliminary data from that period convinced the state of Hawaii to legally ban all commercial taking of turtles. This was followed by adding the green turtle to the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

These green turtles primarily nest in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands that extend from Nihoa to Kure. As remnants of extinct volcanoes, these islands are geologically older than the southeastern Hawaiian Islands, where the eight large islands are home to most of Hawaii’s human population and still-active volcanoes.

Seven long-term data sets and associated sample arrays now exist and are catalogued at NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center in Honolulu, HI. Samples were collected annually over periods of 24 to 41 years. The seven data streams include nesting female monitoring and tagging; ocean capture/basking turtle tagging; strandings; necropsies, including pelagic turtles by catch; rehabilitation and release; euthanasia; and satellite tracking.

“I am extremely encouraged and confident that the resiliency and durability of the Hawaiian green turtle population can overcome any reasonable challenges it may face, so long as human take is sustainable,” said George H. Balazs, a researcher with NOAA and lead author of the review.

The research on green turtles in the Hawaiian Islands offers a model for understanding recovering sea turtle populations. Conservation and management practices in Hawaii founded on this research serve as a learning tool for other Pacific islands trying to sustain important sea turtle resources.

Full text of the article, “A Review of the Demographic Features of Hawaiian Green Turtles (Cheloniamydas),” Chelonian Conservation and Biology, Vol. 14, No. 2, 2015, is now available online.

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About Chelonian Conservation and Biology
Chelonian Conservation and Biology is a scientific international journal of turtle and tortoise research. Its objective is to share any aspects of research on turtles and tortoises. Of special interest are articles dealing with conservation biology, systematic relationships, chelonian diversity, geographic distribution, natural history, ecology, reproduction, morphology and natural variation, population status, husbandry, community conservation initiatives, and human exploitation or conservation management issues. For more information about this journal, see http://www.chelonian.org/ccb/.

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Taylor Fulton
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