August 4th, 2007
This summer’s summaries are dedicated to Jose, without whom they would not have been possible. Mahalo nui loa, Jose.
Honu Ghost Towns
We’ve aimed our binoculars enough times toward The Turtle House to know that there are no turtles there. It doesn’t matter what time of day we try. Casting our binocs a bit more to the north, where North House is, we’ll see no more than three shells on the surface. That suggests some honu still use this area as a resting site. Most days though, we will see intermittent surface activity. Our experience tells us that means there are fewer than a half dozen turtles at North House, when there used to be close to a couple dozen on those high occupancy days a few years ago.
This week we did what is now our annual one-time dive to The North. The North Dive involves a long snorkel and then a descent near where K-17 Rock once was, followed by a long swim underwater makai to North House, then a down-current drift to The Rock and The Turtle House, and if we have sufficient air, a back-of-the-reefs survey to Reef 2.
This time we got to Halimeda Mount, which is just downcurrent of North House, when Peter decided we should abandon the attempt. We hadn’t seen any turtles, we were wasting air fighting upcurrent, and The Turtle House was the priority destination for us. Ursula was often not sure of where she was. The topography had changed–so much sand, so little Halimeda. Where were the Halimeda beds that we’d used as landmarks?
Peter turned for The Turtle House. Again, for Ursula nothing seemed familiar. She knew that vast cloud of Goatfish (weke) that signalled The Rock was no longer there–fished out a few years back. We wouldn’t have that as a navigation tool.
It’s like you can’t go home again–and you can’t get that wondrous school of weke back again.
Well, Peter did manage to find The Rock, and to our sadness it was slimed up. Just brown slimed-up. There were large herbivorous fish about but they were wary and startled at each SCUBA exhaust. Was a time the fish there were so used to us they didn’t even react to our presence. We were a benign part of their scenery.
Now we’re intruders.
We crossed the Rest Site. No turtles, just decay and sea urchins. Crossed the sand channel and saw The Turtle House emerge from the mist. No turtles–just crushed split coral rubble, testimony to what once was.
We did our annual check of the underwater monument we laid down back in 2002. It’s a plastic housing containing a copy of Fire in the Turtle House by Osha Gray Davidson. One day, we hope to place a copy of our own book there, beside Osha’s–a promise finally kept to a sea turtle who we once knew.
Click image to enlarge
We did an air check and headed for Reef 2. We were certain to see turtles there and we needed cheering up.
Drifting over the back of the reefs, we saw no honu–just their turtle tramples. Deep-pressing.
Click image to enlarge
Then, happily we sighted familiar faces. Reef 1 coming up: Raphael, tucked into a hole in the side of the reef, other old friends snoozing in the sand. It isn’t just that we were happy to see honu, it was sighting those we knew. Raph reminds us of 1992 and the Turtle House, when four or five turtles was the norm and seven was–oh my, what a haul to see seven!
Now, if we see a dozen at Reef 2 we ask ourselves where everybody is.
Ghost Town South and seaward
Yesterday (Friday, August 3) we did a Reef 2 dive, but decided to check out Hale Manu and Hale Manu II, which are the farthest from shore of the reefs we visit to the south. Only a couple of years ago, we’d reliably find 4-6 honu hangting out there, but like The Turtle House, it’s been abandoned in recent years. We wanted to see if the turtles had returned since the last time we showed. Nope–and so few fish! We can’t stress that enough.
Fact is, we found Hale Manu back in the late 80’s by the wall-to-wall lemon butterflies. Now there are none to be seen. Not at Hale Manu, in fact not anywhere. Lemon butterflies were among the most common reef inhabitants back then. 1989, how we remember that: the summer of the first great algae bloom. At Reef 2 that year, we saw one turtle disappearing into the distance. That was all. The honu were at The Turtle House. Now it’s like a reversa-situation.
Yet we’re starting to feel a sense of abandonment at Reef 2 now as well. An average dive this summer has 12-15 turtles, but that’s about half what we were seeing even last year. Reef 2 is big, and the honu are more scattered there. No doubt that contributes to the feeling of emptiness we’re getting. Still, it’s worrisome. We’re afraid that next summer we’ll find Reef 2 has become Ghost Town South.
Tutu–We love you!
Where is Tutu? She’s the personification of our abandonment worries. We’ve known her since 1990. Knew her whereabouts right up to 2005. Either she was with us at Honokowai or George Balazs reported her nesting at East Island. Then, no reports last summer when we thought she should be nesting, and no sighting here. No reports or sightings this summer either. This concerns us deeply. If she simply moved elsewhere, we should at least be hearing about her nesting at East.
The Nothings are getting a tad deep-pressing around here.
We see plenty of wonderful things on each dive. Last week we posted a little video clip showing a minor honu squabble. The picture above illiustrates another behaviour, The Yawn. Yesterday, we caught a terrific example of another common behaviour on video. We called it “Happy Together, Butt…”
Pretty neat, eh? That’s an example of one of the ways that a honu takes over a spot that’s already occupied. We don’t see why that particular patch of sand is any more desirable than any other, but obviously the honu does.
This week’s theme video
As the sun begins to set, the honu move inshore to feed. Some evenings we get out the kayak and go out to watch them up close. This week, there was a bit of a south swell working, so we had to keep a sharp eye out for breaking waves as well as for feeding honu. Every once in a while, though, a wave will catch you by surprise…