Pau (July 28, 2009)

July 29th, 2009  

The only turtle at the Turtle House


The sole turtle at the Turtle House today was not a honu, but an ‘ea (hawksbill).


Click image to enlarge


The end of an era

[NOTE: This blog is also posted at Ursula’s site, www.mississaugawatch.ca.]

Our dive of July 28, the fourteenth of 2009, marked the end of an era for us and for the Turtle House. It was nothing like I had expected.

The discovery of the Turtle House

We discovered the Turtle House at the end of the summer of 1989. We’d been expanding our dive area all summer, and this was the furthest we’d ever wandered. The memory is still vivid for me.

First, I saw a vague yellowish cloud in the distance, unlike anything else I’d seen underwater. As we swam closer, we could see that we were actually seeing a huge school of goatfish, more or less hovering near a great, out-of-place rock.  It was—still is—as big as a small bus and there is nothing else like it anywhere in our dive area. While Ursula busied herself looking around and under what we came to call The Rock, a fascinating place in itself, I ventured makai across a small reef.

To my great delight, I could see that across a narrow sand channel there was a huge coral mound—with four honu resting on it! This was exciting because we’d never seen that many turtles resting together before. I rushed back to get Ursula to show her, and we spent a few moments gazing in awe before we realized that our air was running short and we had to go.

We only had four or five dives left that summer, but we visited the Turtle House on every one of them. It turned out that four was actually a low number of honu to find there, and we counted as many as a dozen all within the immediate vicinity of the Turtle House. We were fascinated and delighted. The following winter was long and frustrating for us because we were so eager to spend more time with the turtles there.

The Turtle House honu

Most of the turtles in our Who’s Who Underwater at Honokowai are Turtle House honu. That’s where we first met them, those are the first ones we came to know and name, and sadly, many of them were the first ones we knew who became afflicted with severe fibropapilloma tumors, and thus the first to “disappear.” We never saw them die so we could not say for sure that they were dead, but no other conclusion made sense.

Noke, Barney, Four Spot, Hoahele, and especially Howzit—all youngsters from the Turtle House, all infected with tumors, all went missing and were presumed dead. Larger honu did not escape the curse. Poino was the first to vanish, followed by 1991 Turtle 10, 1993 Turtle 11, 1993 Turtle 8D—they all vanished. (By then we’d identified so many honu we only gave names to the ones with the strongest personalities.)

The Promise we made

1993 was a key year for us. We confirmed that Clothahump, the first honu we’d ever met, had contracted fibropapillomatosis, FP, the tumor disease. We both broke down and cried underwater when we saw her. That was a seminal experience. From the pain of that moment was born the Promise to Clothahump and the honu: to tell their story to the world. Two years later, Turtle Trax became the first sea turtle website. That was our first step towards fulfilling our Promise.

The Book

Our website was never intended to be the fulfillment of our Promise. From the beginning, we talked about writing a book. Back then, we knew we weren’t ready to do that. We weren’t even close. We had to educate ourselves about the honu, about FP, about the environment at Honokowai. We didn’t know when we’d be ready, but we knew the time hadn’t arrived yet.

The prompt

Then at the end of 2001, I felt pain in my chest. I spent New Year’s 2002 in an Intensive Care Unit at the Credit Valley Hospital, followed quickly by a double angioplasty. I was lucky. No heart attack, just the warning signs. I started a rehabilitation programme to get me back in shape to dive again, and Ursula joined me. We both realized that if we wanted to keep spending time with the honu, we had to change our lives.

Another thing we realized was that we couldn’t delay writing the book any longer. Confronted with mortality, we got started.

Published at last!

The journey was long and difficult. Enough said about that. July 18, 2008, marked a major leap towards fulfilling our Promise. That was the day we received our advance copy. Since then The Book of Honu has done well, and you can buy it at major bookstores throughout Hawaii, as well as at most online booksellers (e.g. University of Hawaii Press, Amazon.com, Amazon.ca).

Closure

When we first made the Promise, we thought publication would mean that we were finished. In 2002, however, we’d done something special for Osha Gray Davidson’s book, Fire In The Turtle House, which was partly inspired by the honu of Honokowai. Every year since, we’ve checked on its condition and it has held up well. We both agreed that to bring closure to our Promise, we had to do the same for The Book of Honu.

Ursula signs the copy for the honu


Ursula signs the copy of our book that will be anchored at the Turtle House.


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On July 17, we took a copy of the book to Maui Plastics to be prepared for anchoring at the Turtle House. We both signed it, dedicating it to our honu friends from the Turtle House. Last week, we got word that the casing was finished, so all we needed were the right conditions to finish our task. July 28th turned out to be the day.

The snorkel out

A dive to the Turtle House is arduous. It’s a long way out, and the days when we could make such a dive without effort are over. We snorkel for about ten minutes (about half the distance) before we descend. This time, I had a lot to think about.

I knew that a visit to the Turtle House these days would depress me. So much of what had given us joy out there is now lost. The yellow cloud of goatfish, the first thing I ever saw there, disappeared sometime between summer 2004 and summer 2005. It had gotten smaller, true, preyed upon by a school of about 15-20 ulua (trevally), but that had been happening for years. We don’t think the ulua destroyed the school, but we don’t know what happened either. They’re gone, and I miss them, but that’s not what depresses me.

It’s the missing honu, the turtles I loved, that bring me down. Not just the ones we think are dead; those we knew about and mourned for years ago. It’s the abandonment of the place, the appearance of a ghost town, that’s what makes me sad. I want the honu to still hang out there, lying about and posing for pictures, swimming up to us, even landing on us—but none of that seems likely to happen again. They’ve moved on, and so have we.

Today, we’re lucky. The most popular honu hangout is the much closer Reef 2, still an easy dive for us. Even better, the honu have begun feeding right outside the condo where we stay, the Nohonani. We can walk out onto our lanai at almost any time of day and spot at least a couple of heads popping up for a sip of air.

In the evening, we can often count half a dozen turtles grazing on the rocks directly offshore of our unit, in waist-deep water and only 6-7 meters from the waterline. I fully expect that any day now, a honu will pull out onto the beach to bask. We’ve already seen this behaviour along the West Maui coast.

So those were some of the things I contemplated as we made our way towards the Turtle House to finish what we started so many years before.

Anchoring the book

As I expected, we did not find any honu when we got to the Turtle House. There was, however, one turtle waiting to greet us: a hawksbill, the first one we’ve sighted this summer. Quite a large one too, one of the biggest we’ve seen, and not one familiar to us. She—no long tail and large, so likely a female—let me take her portrait and looked on as we got ready to take care of business.

Ursula, with an ‘ea watching in the background


Ursula takes a picture of me taking a picture of her, with an ‘ea in the background, probably wondering what these noisy clumsy intruders were up to.


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Every summer since 2002, on our first dive to the Turtle House the first thing we do is check Fire In The Turtle House. As it always has so far, it had survived the winter waves with no ill effects.

Osha Gray Davidson’s book, anchored at the Turtle House


The copy of Osha Gray Davidson’s book placed at the Turtle House referred to in the title.


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We then set about putting our own book in place. This took a lot of effort, and the story is best told by the video we made:

Securing the book occupied my mind for a few minutes. Unfortunately, the casing had cracked under pressure, something Maui Plastics had warned us might happen. They’d said the same about Osha’s book too, but it had survived so we were willing to take the chance. I was dismayed at first, but then considered that whether it survives isn’t important, it was completing the Promise that mattered. Maybe next summer the water will have destroyed it, or maybe we’ll never get to go out there again. Whatever happens, we know we finally completed what we started in 1993. It’s over, or as the Hawaiians say, pau.

Sadness runs in a circular motion

In the video, Ursula makes much of the fact that I reached 1100 pounds of air at the Turtle House and we had to leave. In the past, we have often stayed out there until I was down to 800 pounds, and still made the beach with air in the tank. (Aside: women are way better than men when it comes to air consumption; Ursula usually has 800 pounds or more left when I’m down to less than 100.) I wasn’t worried that I’d run out, and neither was she— except…

My reaction as we left surprised me. I broke into tears. The sadness, the loss, the pain of watching honu from this place suffer and disappear… it suddenly overwhelmed me. I tried to keep in mind the joy the place had brought us, the beauty it once held, the delight we experienced in meeting and getting to know and love the Turtle House honu, but that just made me feel worse. So I blubbered away pound after pound of air most of the way back. Every time I thought I had it under control, some new memory would set me off again. [Ursula’s note: I just read this and had no idea until now.] I really was puzzled why I was so emotional, but later, as I contemplated what to write, it came to me.

The only other time I can remember crying underwater was exactly at the moment this journey began: when we saw that Clothahump had FP.

For some reason, before we’d started out, a song I’d completely forgotten until then had been running through my head, a little ditty by Donovan. My subconscious was trying to tell me something. I’ll leave you with the lyrics:

Happiness runs in a circular motion
Thought is like a little boat upon the sea.
Everybody is a part of everything anyway,
You can have everything if you let yourself be.
Happiness runs, happiness runs.

“Happiness runs”, Donovan Leitch

The author contemplating a Promise fulfilled


The author contemplating a Promise fulfilled.


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Maui joys (July 20-26, 2009)

July 26th, 2009  

Spinner dolphin swim-by, July 20,2009


Just a few of the pod of spinner dolphins that regularly swim up and down the West Maui coast—but hardly ever within our sight during a dive.


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Poddin’ us

There’s a large (probably over a hundred but who knows) pod of spinner dolphins that frolic up and down the West Maui coast. They’re delightful to see because spinners seem to take great joy in leaping high out of the water, spinning madly, and landing with a great splash. We see them from shore many times during a summer, and it isn’t uncommon for us to hear them during a dive. Hardly ever do they come within view while we’re underwater, but when it does happen it makes that dive really special.

On July 20 we had such a dive. We’d only submerged a couple of minutes before Ursula signalled to me that she could hear dolphins. She has to do this because I’ve gotten deaf in the higher frequencies that dolphins like to use, and even when they’re right on top of us I can’t hear a lot of the chatter. At any rate, almost as soon as she finished letting me know, she pointed excitedly up to the surface. Ursula talks to her camera underwater these days, and even if I couldn’t hear the dolphins I could hear her shout, “THERE THEY ARE!” I’ll let the video tell the rest.

Cutting the line

The dolphins had already made our July 20 dive special, but there was more joy in store. I experienced my happiest moment underwater so far, and quite likely the happiest moment of the whole summer.

In the summer of 2008, we noticed that a Honokowai male (1998 Turtle 32 in our database, no name) had gotten monofilament line wrapped tightly around his left flipper. The line was embedded fairly deeply in his skin. In such cases, the line often tightens and cuts off blood circulation, eventually rendering the flipper useless. Such entanglement will actually amputate the limb, although it is a long and painful process.

Most Honokowai honu allow us to approach closely, but throughout the summer of 2008, 1998-32 would not let me get close enough to try taking the line off. We kept seeing him on most dives this summer (2009) but he was still wary when I tried to approach. Fortunately, his flipper looked healthy and he seemed to have full use of it. Knowing the potential for disaster, however, I could not abandon my goal of removing the line.

CAVEAT: DO NOT ATTEMPT A RESCUE LIKE THIS UNLESS YOU HAVE CONSIDERABLE EXPERIENCE WITH TURTLES! NOTE THAT IN THE U.S., APPROACHING SEA TURTLES CAN BE CONSIDERED HARASSMENT AND COULD RESULT IN CHARGES.

On July 20, for the first time, he let me get close enough to reach out with my scissors (don’t all divers carry scissors?) and get in a snip. We (the turtle and I) were lucky in that one cut was all I needed to get the whole tangle off. Ursula caught the whole thing on video:

Since then, we’ve seen him and gotten a good look at the flipper. The limb appears fine, with no permanent damage except for scarring. 1998-32 also seems more tolerant now, although we no longer have reason to try to get close. Two days later, I got this picture:

Close-up of the scar left by the fishing line


Close-up of the scar left around 1998 Turtle 32’s left flipper. The monofilament had been wrapped tightly for over a year.


Click image to enlarge


15 bundles of joy

Another source of Maui joy comes whenever we have the privilege of watching a turtle nest being excavated. On July 21, 2009, we got that chance. Hawaii State Biologist Skippy Hau excavated two green turtle nests on the north shore of Maui, near Waihe’e. Both had hatched within a day or two of each other, meaning that two different females were nesting on this beach. Since nesting in the Main Islands is still rare, this Maui beach has become an important site for honu.

Once hatchlings are known to have emerged from a honu nest, the procedure is to wait 5-7 days, then excavate the nest. On Maui, excavations are the responsibility of our good friend Skippy Hau. He excavates for two reasons: first, to rescue any trapped hatchlings, and second, to evaluate the success of the nest and to collect any unhatched eggs or dead hatchlings for analysis by the Marine Turtle Research Program run by George Balazs for the NMFS.

Hatchlings need other hatchlings to help them dig out of a nest. (See our book, The Book of Honu, for a nice description!) This means that when Skippy digs out a nest, he’ll usually find at least one or two trapped hatchlings, stragglers who have no hope of digging themselves out without help. In this case, Nest 1 contained seven live hatchlings and Nest 2 added another eight. Skippy saved fifteen little honu, and at sunset, released them to scamper down the beach before an adoring crowd.

This video shows how cute honu hatchlings are. Beware, heart thieves at work!

Feature photo

If you’ve watched the video, you already know how difficult it is for hatchlings to reach the water. They struggle down the beach, only to be tossed back when a wave breaks over them. Often this happens repeatedly, and clearly it is exhausting for the little turtles. I give you my favourite photo from the nest excavation, which I like to think symbolizes the battle of the honu hatchlings to reach the sea.

A honu hatchling striving for the ocean


Travails of the newly hatched honu


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Something old, something new… (July 13-19, 2009)

July 20th, 2009  

A portrait of Pu’ipu’i (U-249)


Pu’ipu’i, known at Honokowai since 1994, poses atop the coral at South Park


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Pu’ipu’i (U-249), an elegant lady of considerable dignity

Some honu somehow manage to appear, well, experienced. Pu’ipu’i is such a turtle, but in her case, the look has been well-earned.

We first saw Pu’ipu’i (Hawaiian for stocky, plump) at Honokowai 14 years ago.  At the time, she was—and she remains—an aloof turtle. That first summer she permitted us close enough to read her tags, but unlike most of the other honu, she always gave the impression she’d rather that we stayed away. For example, she wouldn’t—still won’t—flee when she sees us, but neither will she stay around for long once we’ve arrived, unless we stay well away. That’s why I was delighted that on last Monday’s dive, she stayed settled and let me take several portraits, my favourite of which you see above.

When we first met Pu’ipu’i we saw evidence of fibropapilloma tumors. At the time, we still hadn’t seen enough FP to know that in many turtles, the disease naturally regresses. All we could tell was that she was infected, which at the time made us fear for her. Back then we didn’t see her much, and the next year we recorded a sighting was not until 1999. By then we knew enough that we could tell she was a regression case. 1999 was the year we expanded our dive range to include North House and we realized that one reason we hadn’t seen Pu’ipu’i every year was that her range exceeded ours. Once we began visiting North House and Reef 2 regularly, we saw her more often.

Then, in 2000 we got delightful news from East Island in the French Frigate Shoals: Pu’ipu’i had been recorded nesting there, and better yet, the monitoring team had taken a photo! We’d put her on the list of potential nesters for that year, so Vanessa and Aaron had been watching for her.

Pu’ipu’i at East Island


Pu’ipu’i making one of her nests at East Island, French Frigate Shoals, on June 21, 2000. Photo by Vanessa Pepi and Aaron Dietrich.


Click image to enlarge


In 2001 she was back at Honokowai, and in 2002 she nested again and this time she returned in time for us to see her before we left for the winter. On August 26, during one of our last dives for that year, I recorded her on videotape with a bright new marking on her shell, L47U, identifying her as a 2002 nester.

So Pu’ipu’i is a faithful Honokowai resident. She makes the 1600 kilometer round trip and returns right to the same reefs she left. Given that many of  the Honokowai regulars seem to have gone looking for greener pastures in the past three years, we’re grateful to see her. She’s a touch of familiarity in what has increasingly become a “new crowd” at Honokowai. Best of all, she’s become more tolerant—although not by a lot.

A rare nesting event on Oahu

Last week, on Thursday July 16, the NMFS Marine Turtle Research Program (MTRP) got a call from the Game Warden (Robin) at Kaneohe Marine Corps Base Hawaii. Pyramid Rock Beach is part of the base, and Robin had witnessed a turtle laying eggs—at 10:45 in the morning! This is unusual not just because nesting turtles in the Main Islands are still rare (although becoming more common every year) but also because honu nest at night.

Robin also managed to measure the turtle’s carapace length. It was 66 cm, much too small for a nesting honu. On the other hand, these characteristics are a perfect fit for another species: the olive ridley. Now ridleys are extremely uncommon in Hawaii. To have one nest here and be seen doing it—, well, those are win-the-lottery odds. Yet the description of the nesting behaviour and better yet, photographs, confirmed that an olive ridley had done her motherly duty on Pyramid Rock Beach.

Robin was concerned that the nest was vulnerable to being washed out by high surf, so Stacy and Irene from the MTRP went to the base to examine the nest. Since the nest was just 6 meters or so above the high tide line, they agreed that the eggs should be relocated. These photos tell the story of what happened next.

Original nest location, Pyramid Rock Beach, Kaneohe Marine Corps Base, Oahu HI


This photo shows how close the nest was to the waterline, putting it in danger of being washed out. Photo by Irene Nurzia-Humburg and Stacy Hargrove.


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Relocating the eggs


They carefully opened the nest and relocated 108 eggs to a safe location further up the beach. Photo by Irene Nurzia-Humburg and Stacy Hargrove.


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The new nursery for (we hope) 108 olive ridley hatchlings


The new location, further up the beach and protected by flagging tape and signs. Photo by Irene Nurzia-Humburg and Stacy Hargrove.


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In 7-8 weeks, if all goes well, Robin or some other lucky Marine might catch sight of little hatchlings scampering down the beach. After that, the MTRP team will excavate the nest to determine its success, with hopes of obtaining a DNA sample to help further understand the unusual phenomenon. Since marine turtles usually return to the beach they hatched from to nest, we wonder if, a couple of decades from now, Pyramid Rock Beach might be the scene of a mini-arribada. (An arribada is the name for the mass nesting event of the ridley turtle.) Hey, they’re Marines! Semper Fi!

Introducing a Honu Cutie

Last week we posted a photo of the latest cute recruit to steal our hearts. She—we refer to most honu as “she” until we are sure of their sex—doesn’t have a name because we decided that naming the little recruits was just too heart-breaking. At Honokowai, the history has been that virtually all young honu (there’s been only one exception in our records) become infected with fibropapilloma tumors, which quickly advances. Then they disappear. So far, there’s no sign of this happening to our latest sweetheart, but we’re still too cautious to name her.

We see her reliably in the same place at the start of our dives, resting under a coral head about 5 meters down and 100 meters or so from shore. We assume she probably encounters snorkelers quite regularly, since she tolerates our interest with aplomb. On our latest dive, Ursula recorded a bit of her routine, which we spliced together with a sample of the action out on Reef 2, 300-400 meters from shore and a bit too far out for a little one just yet. I hesitate to say this, but I will: since the FP contagion seems to have peaked and diminished to mercifully low levels at Honokowai in recent years, maybe this cutie has a chance. So far, no bad signs. If she’s still clean next year, we might be seeing a happy breakthrough.

Feature photo

At the risk of being monotonous…

Ursula looks in on a honu cutie


Ursula looks in on a honu cutie.


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A new aloha (July 7-12, 2009)

July 12th, 2009  

Aikane waving


There can be no better welcome to our new look than a wave from our old friend, Aikane.


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The new look

Aloha and welcome to our new front page. Previous visitors will notice that I’ve moved the Summer blog onto the front page, and moved the links around. The idea is to give the most recent activity (i. e. our summer commentaries) more prominence. I felt the old front page sort of buried the blog, so that many visitors were missing a chance to read our delightful prose.

I’m not sure if I’m finished tinkering, so if anyone has suggestions, there is a comment box below, you know. Mahalo for any contributions to the process.

Turtle turnabout

On to what is the most remarkable honu behaviour I’ve seen in 20 years of watching honu underwater.

Last week I posted a short video on YouTube that we called Honu Hassle … with KARMA! The Karma part comes about when a small spotted pufferfish (C. jactator, commonly called a toby) takes a bite out of an obnoxious honu. Watch and see for yourself:

Tobies like to hide under honu and it’s quite common to see them biting the turtles, presumably in an effort to snag a parasite snack. It’s clearly annoying to the honu, since they often flinch when bitten. Occasionally a toby bites repeatedly and you’ll see the honu leave in frustration.

So it was that during a dive this week, I was setting up to photograph a honu when I noticed a toby approaching:

Small toby on approach


A small toby approaches a honu, probably in anticipation of chomping some parasite lunch—and consequently, the turtle as well.


Click image to enlarge


I was preparing to get a picture of the action, when suddenly—CHOMP! Not the toby, the honu! I couldn’t believe what I’d seen. The toby had vanished, and it had all happened so fast I had no chance to click the shutter. I couldn’t believe my eyes, but there was the honu right in front of me, masticating—something. I recovered from my surprise and started to snap pictures. As the honu chewed (not really the right word) the surrounding water started to fill with particles, so I hoped to catch a shot with some evidence of the poor toby’s fate. This sort of thing is completely dependent on luck, and the best I could manage was a shot in which you can just barely see the toby’s tail:

Tale of the toby comes to a sad end


A honu with a mouthful of toby. See inset for the tip of the toby’s tail.


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Now, honu are vegetarians. They don’t eat fish. Although immature honu are omnivores during their pelagic stage, when they arrive inshore they switch to a vegetarian diet, like their mature cohorts. Neither of us has ever, ever, in 20 years seen a honu eat a fish. It’s not clear at all why this turtle snapped up the toby. Perhaps this was a case of “I’ve had enough and I’m not going to take it anymore.” I really doubt that it was done for food, because a) as I said, honu don’t eat fish, and b) look at this next picture:

Ewwww, disgusting!


Anthropomorphic perhaps, but doesn’t this honu look disgusted?


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Disgusted or not, right after I took that shot the honu spit out the remains of the toby, got up, and swam away. Here’s what was left:

Alas, poor toby


Not really honu food. This toby will never bite another honu.


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At this point, I feel like saying, “Now I’ve seen everything,”—but I’m pretty sure I haven’t. Honu are full of surprises.

Featured pic

As I’ve written before, we have mixed feelings when we see little recruits. While they are adorably cute and their carapaces are simply spectacular (they’ve not had time to develop the coating of algae that will dull their shells) at Honokowai it’s the really young turtles who historically have suffered most from fibropapilloma tumors. Our experience is that they all get infected, it progresses faster, and it is more devastating in recruits. Nevertheless, the sight of a recruit is always a joy to behold. There’s one living right now about 100 meters from shore, and Ursula got a wonderful picture that we’d like to share with you.

Honokowai’s new recruit


This little honu is the smallest we’ve seen this summer. I’m sure I don’t have to point out the dazzling shell.


Click image to enlarge


Best of all, this turtle’s eyes look clear, meaning that so far there’s no FP. (Our experience is that FP starts in the eyes.)

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At last (June 28-July 6, 2009)

July 6th, 2009  

The first week

We’ve actually been on Maui for a week now. We got to the Nohonani close to midnight last Sunday (June 28) and as we always do, walked out onto the lanai for our first look at Our Water. (Okay it actually belongs to the honu, and the sharks, and the Hawaiians, but it’s our back yard to me.) Our lanai almost overhangs the water, it’s that close. No more than 5 metres from the waterline, straight in front of us, there is a rock formation that barely breaks the surface at low tide. As our eyes adjusted, we could see movement down there. We could make out one, then two, then three honu grazing on the rock. It got harder to count them as they moved around, but we figured there were at least four and maybe five turtles right below us, all in water that would barely come up to our knees. What a honu greeting! If only the light had been good enough for video or pictures…

On Monday morning, I woke with a scratchy sore throat. It was just as well since the ocean noise already precluded any thought of diving—we had a swell running. So that was pretty much our week with the honu: watching from the lanai while waves stirred up the water and I suffered from a (fortunately mild) cold. The trend we’ve noted over the past couple of years is continuing. It’s now common to see several honu feeding throughout the day along the formation we call the Sea Wall (actually a ledge of petrified beach) about 25 metres from shore. Starting in the mid-afternoon, some of them move in even closer to shore to work on the rocks like the ones right below us, although we haven’t seen a repeat of the numbers we saw that first evening. These are often full-grown honu, leading us to expect fewer turtles out on the reef during the day. More on that in a moment.

Last summer we checked the rocks and Sea Wall  to see what the honu were eating, and it was clear that there were sparse pickings. Their preferred food in the past has been pterocladiella, but that’s been grazed right down to the rock in most places. This summer we’re seeing a resurgence of ulva, or sea lettuce. Fortunately for the honu, ulva regenerates quickly and apparently is their new main course. Over the past few summers, encroaching sand has covered a lot of the ocean floor that used to host various seaweeds. Describing the area as a desert is not inappropriate. We’ve speculated that this is the main reason for the change in our ohana’s behaviour towards daytime feeding, and why we find fewer honu out on the reef.

Unfortunately for you, dear reader, this new behaviour is difficult to show to you (but I just had an idea that might work, we’ll see). We could make video of long periods of waves broken by occasional honu heads popping up for a second or so, but we’ll spare you that. Photos are not practical either. Shooting from the beach or the lanai requires lots of luck since most of the time, there’s nothing to see but water. We don’t try to approach them using snorkel or SCUBA because they are far less tolerant when feeding inshore than when resting on the reef. Even if we were so rude as to disrupt dinner, most of the time the water is too murky from wave action on beach sand to allow decent photographs or video. I guess you’ll have to come to Maui and see for yourself.

We  finally get wet

So yesterday both the swell and my cold had diminished enough to try diving. After the usual first dive frustrations with equipment (e.g. I broke a snorkel-keeper) we got underway, submerging much closer to shore than usual. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the swell hadn’t destroyed visibility completely; in fact, I’d rate it good. It was immediately obvious that ulva was growing profusely inshore, which is good for the honu.

As we arrived at Reef 2 we started to see honu. I’m not as good at recognizing individuals as Ursula, but I knew right away who the first honu I photographed was. Blue was named for his distinctive shell, seen partially covered in this photo:

Blue, known since 2000


Blue is a male who apparently did not make the migration to the French Frigate Shoals this summer.


Click image to enlarge


The first summer we met Blue, he had fresh scars on the trailing edges of both his front and hind flippers typical of those inflicted by competing males. He was also skinny—much skinnier that you see him here. Looks like he’s not feeling as raunchy this year.

The rest of the dive was uneventful. We went to Reef 2 (those of you with our book can now look at the map and see where we were!) but found perhaps ten or twelve honu. A few years ago we’d probably see as many as 30. There seem to be fewer and fewer fish, which is not surprising given that the reefs here have been declining steadily for years. On the way back, I was briefly surrounded by a school of needlefish, fun to see but exceedingly difficult to photograph due to their silvery colour. Nothing else special to report.

A typical scene

I’ll close this short blog with a typical scene from yesterday. I’m thinking that this summer, blog entries will be irregular rather than on some forced schedule. If something neat happens, I’ll report it as soon as I can; otherwise, I’ll try to post weekly but who knows. Aloha!

Your author and anonymous honu


An unidentified honu at peace on the reef, with me hovering about enjoying the view. Note lack of other honu in the picture.


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