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.

Click image to enlarge

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One Response to “At last (June 28-July 6, 2009)”

  1. Tony Burns on July 7th, 2009 2:17 am

    Nice to see you posting again. Have a great summer.

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