Just when we thought we were having a good week… (July 13-19, 2008)

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.

Yoshino family & 5690

Once 5690 was deep in her egg-laying trance, it was possible for the Yoshinos to get a look at her eggs.

Click image to enlarge

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?

George, intrigued by a road sign

George couldn’t resist taking a photo of the road sign that points to both nesting beach sites we were on our way to visit.

Click image to enlarge

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.

George Balazs measuring one of MOC’s honu

Visitors to Maui Ocean Center get a rare treat: honu up close and out of the water, as well as a chance to see how sea turtle biology is done.

Click image to enlarge

Our good luck trumps George’s little black cloud!

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!

Your author and a big grin

The US Postal Service comes through!

Click image to enlarge

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.

The authors and George Balazs with The Book

The authors and George Balazs with the advance copy of our book—at long last.

Click image to enlarge

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!

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9 Responses to “Just when we thought we were having a good week… (July 13-19, 2008)”

  1. Leslie Mansperger Photography on December 12th, 2008 8:57 pm

    What an awesome experience for the Yoshino kids to be able to see 5690 again!

  2. Russell Constable on February 28th, 2009 5:41 am

    Hello Peter and Ursula

    this is not really for your blog site its more about contacting you!

    My name is Russell Constable and I live at Bramston beach in far north Queensland Australia. Firstly I would like to say I really enjoy the spirit of Turtle Trax. Your outlook on copyright is great as I have the same outlook. If my stuff is used to help sea turtles I want it used!!
    Recantly I have conducted a sea turtle survey and located nests in a magnificent bay that is destined to be ruined by a Mega Resort.

    I have shared the results of my survey with conservation groups and an urgent appeal has been sent to our federal minister to intervene and take the needs of nesting turtles into consideration with regards to this development. The minister is considering this appeal and has invited public comment via a federal government website.

    I have roused great support within Australia however I would really like for the minister to receive comments from overseas. Turtle conservation is an international issue and I strongly feel the minister will be heavily influenced if he receives international interest.

  3. Russell Constable on February 28th, 2009 5:45 am

    I am trying to contact peter and Ursula re turtle conservation issues in Australia. dont seem to be having any luck! If they email me I will send turtle survey information and an attempt to save an important turtle nesting area from development
    I hope you can help
    regards russell constable

  4. Russell Constable on February 28th, 2009 6:03 am

    Further to my last I would like to send you the maps and results of my survey. I also have a link to the Australian Government web site where interested people can have their say to the minister and help save the turtle nesting areas at Ella Bay.

    I hope to hear from you soon
    Russell Constable

  5. realist on March 11th, 2009 10:26 pm

    If you look at the plans and the facts regarding the resorts proposed location it would become apparent that the resort will not impact turtle nesting by either light polution or by human traffic because it will be constructed on a disused cattle property which is separated from the beach by a very dense band of rainforest a minimum of eighty metres wide also human traffic will not be allowed near the littorial zone where the turtles nest. the resort could actually be a very positive thing for turtle conservation as not only will it protect their nesting areas but would also promote awareness and conservation of marine turtles in Queensland to visitors from around the world. I have seen turtle nests raided by feral pigs (which the resort spends thousands on controling already) and raided for food by local aboriginal people who live in suburbia but raid the nests as a delicacy this would cease if the ella bay resort was allowed to go ahead and was viewed as the caretaker rather than the villan. If the resort fails the 400 hectare cattle property will probably be used for banana crops which will dump large amounts of pesticides and herbicides into ella bay.the beach will then be used as a motor cycle track and illegal camping area as it is now. think hard about the after effects before listening to mr contable who lives on bramston beach and whos own house lights reach the sea on a turtle nesting beach.

  6. J Tang on May 29th, 2009 1:18 pm

    what qualifications does Mr. Constable have? how does one go about doing a sea turtle survey?

  7. Russell Constable on July 18th, 2009 8:44 pm

    In response to “realist” your facts are far from the truth. There is no “dense band of rainforest” it is coastal scrub and is definitely not 80 metres wide at a minimum!
    Human traffic will be allowed on the areas where the turtles nest!
    The raiding by indigenous peoples is a slur against the Mamu people who have a treaty called a TUMRA regarding usage of marine resources.
    My home is 2 kilometres away from the closest beach and this attempt at defamation is pathetic.It is interesting to note the date of realists comments. The same day the government Shared my submission with the developer, draw your own conclusions. Real men don’t hide behind false names.

  8. Lana Yoshino on December 2nd, 2009 2:05 pm

    Hi! I love this website and I have been on it before. what brought my attention back to the website is that I have a school project on classification and my experience with 5690 inspired me to do my project on green sea turtles! I found the website when I was researching on google, and found some great info and it will help a lot! I can also write about my experience with 5690 along with some facts! Thank you!
    🙂 Lana Yoshino

  9. Peter on December 9th, 2009 11:30 am

    Aloha Lana,

    Wonderful to hear from you again. My wife and I both remember you and Max quite well. You, your brother, and your Mom gave us one of our most memorable nights ever with 5690. I’m glad that the website was helpful and that you continue to be interested in turtles. I remember being impressed by how much you already knew about honu when we first met.

    We expect 5690 to make nests again this summer. Perhaps we’ll run into each other again. Say aloha to Max and your Mom for us.

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