July 20th, 2008
5690 nests again: an experience re-born
Since 2000, 5690 has nested every even-numbered year. That’s as frequent as sea turtles ever get, and it’s not unusual for some of them to go three or even four years between nesting seasons. I don’t think 5690 will ever wait more than the bare minimum, however, because she lives only a few kilometres north of her nesting beach. Not for her the gruelling 800 kilometre swim to the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, oh no. She’d rather run us ragged every second year watching for her to nest, and then keeping an eye on the nests to see when they hatch. I’m sure she does this on purpose.
So it was that we felt lucky this week when we got a call on Monday morning from Skippy Hau, Hawaii State Biologist, that 5690 had been seen ashore the previous night. This was a day earlier than we thought we had to start watching, so I rushed to the beach and checked out the dig. I was worried that we might have missed her, but it looked to me that she’d given up and gone back without dropping eggs. Close one. We couldn’t be certain, of course, so Monday night Ursula and I prepared for an all-nighter and headed to Kamehameha Iki Park.
We needn’t have worried. When we got there 5690 had already crawled up the beach, wandered around a bit, and made a couple of false starts. (We later reconstructed this from her tracks.) We arrived just as she settled in for some serious digging. Her previous nests this summer have all been in more precarious locations, closer to the water, where waves have often swept over them. She chose to make this one well back from the waterline.
Our luck continued to improve when the Yoshino family showed up. Lindhow (Mom), Lana (11), and Max (9) had met us before in 2006 at the excavation of one of 5690’s nests. (At least, that’s how I remember it but my memory is long past its best-before date.) What I do recall clearly is that both kids were impressively bright and keenly interested in sea turtles. At any rate, Lindhow had brought them along to see if there was any sign of hatchlings from 5690’s earlier nests. They were delighted to discover that Momma 5690 herself was in attendance, digging industriously.
Watching 5690 make a nest is a long and sometimes boring process, but having the Yoshinos there transformed the experience. For one thing, both kids already knew a lot about sea turtles and nesting, but they still had endless questions. Intelligent, thoughtful questions. The kind that make the time go by. Ursula and I appreciated that.
For another, watching the Yoshinos was like re-living our first nesting experience. The joy and excitement was contagious. They were having a ball and thanks to them, so were we. Best of all was the moment after 5690 entered her egg-laying trance and the Yoshinos got to creep quietly up behind her and peer down into the egg chamber. The Yoshinos are perfectly aware that once a sea turtle starts laying her eggs almost nothing can disturb her, but you’d never know that by their respect and quiet behaviour… and oh, the aloha! You could feel it in the air. It was perfect.
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From the time 5690 drops her last eggs until she finishes covering up is usually about two hours. It’s long, and truthfully, the most unexciting part of the whole thing. The Yoshinos could easily have been forgiven if they’d left right after seeing the eggs, but I don’t think you could have dragged them away with a two-ton pickup. Fortunately for all concerned, she’d started early (for her) and almost exactly at 1 AM, 5690 wearily dragged herself back into the water.
It wasn’t quite over. The place where 5690 had nested is exactly where people like to lie or sit during the day, since it is shaded for a good part of the time. Surfers start arriving right after sunrise, so we had to drive in posts and put up CAUTION tape before we went home. The Yoshinos eagerly helped until the whole job was done, then gave us warm hugs before heading off to bed. I’m not sure what time Max and Lana got to sleep, but I’m betting it took a while before the excitement of the evening wore off. Mahalo nui loa to them for an evening not to be forgotten.
Luck of the George
So far our luck was quite good. Somewhere I think there’s a huge balance scale, however, and when our luck is good someone else’s goes bad. This is where I introduce our great friend and mentor, George Balazs. He’s the Leader of Marine Turtle Research for Hawaii and he visits us once or twice each summer in the course of carrying out other work-related duties on Maui. George had been hoping that 5690 would wait one more night so that he could see her again, but our good luck with the Yoshinos and the short night (relatively) was his bad luck. Not so bad, you might be thinking. Just wait.
George was due to arrive on a late afternoon flight so that he could give a presentation to a group of stranding volunteers, the people who take care of turtles when they wind up ashore and in difficulty. When he got to Honolulu Airport, however, his flight had been cancelled. He hastily made arrangements for the next flight, which would get him to Kahului behind schedule, but while he made that flight, his luggage (with the handouts he’d prepared) didn’t.
George’s volunteers had waited patiently for him (who wouldn’t be willing to wait a while to hear George talk about turtles?) and the presentation went well even without the materials. As he was leaving, George called us to say he was on his way.
An hour passed. That’s usually long enough to make the trip from Kihei to Honokowai, but not this night. The phone rang, and it was George—stopped dead on the highway about halfway here, thanks to night-time construction. So clearly, George had a streak going.
When George finally arrived, we had a wonderful time for what was left of the evening and a fair chunk of the early morning, getting to bed far too late. Up too early as well, but a day with George is always full and never dull. Things to do, places to go! First, we took George’s rental car across the island to recover the lost luggage. That done, we looked around a reported green turtle nesting sites at Waiehu, then drove over to take a look at Waihee (no nests reported this year), both of which are fairly isolated stretches of beach. Why do I mention that point, you ask?
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Well, next it was on to lunch at Wendy’s, Kahului—where George glanced out the window and said, “Hm. Does that tire look flat to you?” Yup, the little black cloud was still following George around. Flat as a pancake, at least on the bottom.
Our Good Luck week must have partially offset George’s Bad Luck week, because we could have gone flat at one of the nesting site spots, which would have been inconvenient to say the least. Fortunately, the service truck was stationed fairly close by and a friendly, efficient tow truck driver had us back on the road without too much delay. George had work to do at Maui Ocean Center (always a treat to visit, you should go).
Maui Ocean Center has a turtle tank, which usually contains around half a dozen small honu hatched at Sea Life Park on Oahu. When George visits, they’re weighed, examined, and given PIT tags in preparation for eventual release into the wild. George worked on a table right next to the turtle tank, giving patrons a great opportunity to see the turtles up close and observe turtle science in progress. George’s little black cloud must have been elsewhere for a while, because everything went smoothly and quickly.
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One of the nice aspects of our Maui Ocean Center visit was that they expressed an interest in having us conduct a book-signing there—but of course, this meant we’d need books to sign. The last week of August (also our last week on Maui) will be Sea Turtle Week at the Center and a book-signing during this celebration of honu would be wonderful. As far as we knew, the schedule still had bulk shipments of the book at the end of September at the earliest, but I agreed to contact our publisher, University of Hawaii Press, to see what chance there was that we could squeeze out at least one advance copy. Failing a full book-signing, they were willing to consider a presentation where we could at least generate a little publicity for the book.
The next morning (Friday) I sent email to our editor asking about the possibility. We were floored by the quick reply: an advance copy had been put in the mail that morning! Take that, George’s little black cloud! We—including George of course—were ecstatic. We had thought that we wouldn’t see an advance copy until we were back in Mississauga. To receive it here on Maui was a really special bonus.
We went about the rest of the day running around with George as usual, visiting 5690’s nests and a few other sites where we knew honu go to forage and in a couple of cases, sometimes haul out to bask. We were on a real high, the only down side being that George would be leaving in mid-afternoon. When we returned to the condo to prepare for his departure, we didn’t really expect to find the book waiting, but I checked the mailbox anyway.
Now I know people like to dump on the US Postal system, but folks, they outdid themselves on Friday. The book, posted Friday morning on Oahu, was in our mailbox at 2 PM Friday afternoon! Beat that, UPS and FedEx!
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Those of you familiar with the CMYK colour space (the one used for offset colour printing) is not kind to blues. It’s the hardest colour to print correctly. This fact had me extremely nervous about the colour images I’d provided. After all, I’d never done this before. To make matters worse, after I’d finished and everything was off to the printer, I happened to read Dan Margulis (world renowned colour printing expert) on the topic of printing blues, and frankly, it made my stomach churn. Had I done it right?
I need not have worried. Folks, even if I do say so myself, the book is stunning. The printers did a fabulous job. You should get your copy and see for yourself (hint, hint). We couldn’t be happier with the final result. Best of all, George–who has been a major part of this book since the beginning—was here when it arrived, and was at least as thrilled as we were. It just doesn’t get any better.
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So we’ve been over the moon ever since. We haven’t managed to dive or get out on the kayak for a long time, but none of that bothers us right now. The Book of Honu is finally a reality. Not just printed and ready to sell—t’s beautiful.
Oh, and that little black cloud?
Waiting for George at the airport. About two hours after his flight was supposed to have left, we got a phone call from George. His plane was still sitting on the tarmac, delayed by “paperwork.” He eventually did get home, several hours late. For George, this Maui trip had been a mixed bag, but all of the misfortunes were offset by arrival of the book. All in all, it was a Good Week. Aloha!