Tag Archives: Oahu

Turtles rebound in Hawaii, but most use 1 nesting site

Published December 14, 2015 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2015 Susan Scott
One photo, seven turtles. Oahu’s North Shore. ©2015 Susan Scott

One photo, seven turtles. Oahu’s North Shore. ©2015 Susan Scott

‘Turtle! Turtle!”

The call came from our Palau guide during his rare turtle sightings, and usually the animal was 60 feet deep and departing. We Hawaii snorkelers in the group didn’t exactly shrug, but we’re so used to close encounters with tame turtles that seeing one disappearing in the distance was no big deal.

Turtles are so common around the main islands today that it’s reasonable to think the animals have recovered from the threat of extinction. But there’s more to recovery than head counts.

Turtles encounters in Hawaii include them coming very close to examine what you're up to. © Scott R. Davis

Turtles encounters in Hawaii include them coming very close to examine what you’re up to.
© Scott R. Davis

In a 2014 paper published in the journal Biological Conservation, workers studied Hawaii’s ancient sites, market accounts, past menus and state records to determine the history of human impact on Hawaii’s turtles. The biologists divided their findings into three stages.

The first began with Polynesian settlers in about 1250. Archaeological digs show widespread turtle use among Hawaiian societies, which surely included egg collecting. Eventually, hunting pressure from a growing population destroyed most nesting areas in the main islands.

The second decline came with European contact in 1778. During the 1800s ship crews from Europe, North America and Asia killed turtles and collected eggs throughout the Northwest Hawaiian Islands for subsistence and commercial trade. By 1950 all turtle nesting areas in the northwestern chain were obliterated except for a single island in one atoll.

The final blow began in 1946. Due to a growing tourist industry, restaurant demand for turtle meat increased, and Hawaii’s government licensed turtle hunting. Because small coastal turtles were scarce by then, fishers moved to offshore areas where large, reproductive-age turtles swam. Turtle numbers finally got so low that the animals became protected under the Endangered Species Act in 1974, ending all legal hunting.

Protection works, and today the number of greens in Hawaii’s coastal areas is (arguably) about 61,000. But whether that’s close to or far from pre-hunting numbers no one can say.

Either way, this success story has a critical glitch. More than 90 percent of Hawaii’s turtles still nest only on that one tiny island 500 miles northwest of Oahu. This unnatural concentration means that the turtles are only one calamitous weather event, or one human-driven disaster, from losing their last egg-laying haven. That problem demands continued protection.

Nowhere have sea turtle numbers increased like they have in Hawaii, nor do turtles bask on beaches anywhere else in the world.

Sometimes it takes traveling to appreciate the splendor we have in our own backyards.

A turtle basking on the North Shore of Oahu, using a rock as a pillow. © Scott R. Davis

A turtle basking on the North Shore of Oahu, using a rock as a pillow.
© Scott R. Davis

Albatrosses receive help to prep for high sea level

Published August 17, 2015 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2015 Susan Scott


A Laysan albatross. The native birds need our guidance to nest on higher ground. ©2015 Susan Scott

Just when I’m feeling low about how humans treat wildlife on our planet, in comes the following news release from a local nonprofit group called Pacific Rim Conservation: As of July 1, 10 Laysan albatross chicks fledged from James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge on Oahu’s North Shore. The young birds’ launch signals the first success in a three-year project to create a new albatross colony.

The birds need new colonies because 99 percent of the world’s Laysan albatrosses nest in the low-lying atolls of Hawaii’s northwest chain. With sea levels on the rise, it won’t take much ice melt to flood the nurseries.

But persuading adult albatrosses to nest on higher ground is next to impossible. With the exception of a few pioneers, such as those that began a colony on their own at Kaena Point, albatrosses are hard-wired to nest where they were raised.

So rather than move adults, workers moved eggs.

For both albatross and human safety, each fall since 2004 workers at Kauai’s Pacific Missile Range Facility have collected albatrosses and their eggs from the runway area and taken them to Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, home to a long-established albatross colony.

Adults released there consider their eggs lost and fly to sea to try again next year. But not all eggs are lost. Biologists tuck some under albatrosses whose eggs were either broken or infertile. Because there aren’t enough foster parents to brood all the PMRF’s runway eggs, leftovers are donated to researchers.

This year, though, in a translocation experiment sponsored by multiple agencies, biologists “candled” the extra eggs to find live embryos, flew those to Oahu and placed them in incubators.

Upon hatching, the tiny chicks were flown back to Kauai to foster parents whose eggs didn’t hatch. This crucial move caused the chicks to imprint on the correct species.

At a month old, the age when chicks get a fix on their birth location, the youngsters were flown back to Oahu’s James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge. There, amid a pretend albatross colony of decoys and recordings, workers for five months fed the chicks fish and squid slurry.

To everyone’s joy, all 10 chicks grew up and flew to sea, hopefully to return in three to five years to James Campbell. When they mate and start raising their own chicks there, a new colony will be born.

Learning the details of how countless people studied, carried, drove, candled, flew, incubated, flew again, fostered, flew another time, fed and sheltered those chicks renewed my faith in human compassion toward wildlife. Not everyone is out there shooting lions.

Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2015 Susan Scott


7-11 crab gets its name from its array of spots

Published September 15, 2014 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2014 Susan Scott

This 7-11 crab was found in a Waia­lua tide pool. The crab is named for its spots — 11 total, with seven in front and on top, and four in back. ©2014 Susan Scott

I recently received an email with the subject “Crab on V-land beach.” (V-land, or Velzyland, is a North Shore surf spot.) Reader Bill Quinlan wrote, “I have attached two photos of a dead crab we found this afternoon. A lady we showed the crab to said she was from Kauai and they call that type of crab a 7-11 crab. She did not explain why.”

Oahu people call them 7-11 crabs, too. The striking species ranges throughout the Indian and Pacific Oceans on reefs from tide pools to 50 or so feet deep. Other names are spotted reef crab and dark finger coral crab. In Hawaii, though, and for many people around the world, it’s a 7-11 crab.

A common story about the unusual name is that it’s a reference to the crab’s maroon spots. Although some individuals have more, most crabs have seven spots across the shell’s front and top, and four across the lower back, totaling 11.

This logic would make it a 7-4 crab, but the words “seven-11” have more of a ring. A convenience store chain called Tot’m liked the rhyming words, as well.

In 1946 the name was changed to 7-Eleven to reflect its long (for the ’40s) operating hours, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Two days after Bill’s email, I received another 7-11 crab email from my friend Mary. “This morning I found the remnants of a huge 7-11 crab on the reef at Ala Moana. His shell was about 8 inches across. First one I ever saw, living or dead. I understand from other locals there that about two years ago a lot of juveniles washed ashore. What an interesting world!”

It sure is. For unknown reasons, in July 2012 thousands of blueberry-size creatures washed ashore on Oahu. Being in their larval stage, the creatures didn’t look much like adult 7-11 crabs, but that was an expert’s conclusion. Check out the baby crabs at bit.ly/1CKYqFA.

I also found a 7-11 crab, but it was alive and well in a Waia­lua tide pool. After I took this picture, I put the little crab back in its pool to grow up and make more crabs. In Singapore the species is considered threatened due to pollution and over-collecting.

Seven-11 crabs grow to about 6 inches across, so the crab Mary found was as big as they get. She took it home to let the ants clean it outdoors before giving it a place of honor in the house.

Bill considered his crab a gem, too. “My wife, Rita, and I have been dive buddies for almost 40 years and have dived in numerous countries,” he wrote. “We both feel this is the most special crab we have ever seen. A graphic designer couldn’t come up with a design anywhere close to as good.”

I agree. A certain convenience store would do well to make this crab its logo.

Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2014 Susan Scott

Kaena Point is hard to beat for watching nature’s glory

Published November 25, 2013 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2013 Susan Scott

A Hawaiian monk seal basked at Kaena Point last week. ©2013 Susan Scott

Last week I hikedto Kaena Point, a daylong excursion (about a one-hour drive from Honolulu, and a 5-mile round-trip hike). A few days later I got a text from a friend: “Hiking to Kaena Point. Wanna come?”

Leaving Oahu’s mass of buildings and lines of vehicles and walking into that world-class wildlife sanctuary had been like stepping through a magic wardrobe. Could I turn down another such journey? Of course not. I accepted instantly.

In the 1980s the state banned motorized vehicles from the 59-acre space to allow the plants and animals of this rare dune ecosystem (one of the last in the main Hawaiian Islands) to recover. And that they did, especially after the 2011 installation of a cat/rat/mongoose-resistant fence.

During my visits, Laysan albatrosses worked the wind, soaring as only albatrosses can. Other albatross parents had already hunkered down on newly laid eggs, and a few were singing and dancing in their search for mates. About 400 of these native seabirds spend the nesting season at Kaena Point, and the numbers continue to grow.


Wedge-Tailed Shearwater chick. ©2013 Susan Scott

Layman Albatross. ©2013 Scott R. Davis

Layman Albatross. ©2013 Scott R. Davis

 Wedge-tailed shearwaters (the “wedgies” I wrote about two weeks ago) also nest here. Full grown but still downy, chicks are emerging from their underground burrows, blinking in the bright sun. The youngsters are gearing up for the big leap, their first flight to the sea.

Kaena Point is also an ideal place to watch humpback whales and winter waves. Besides the beauty of big surf, the 20-foot-tall waves pounding the shore during my first visit caused four Hawaiian monk seals to choose a sleeping place exceptionally high on the beach. Several residents and visitors, a monk seal expert and 91 Punahou students admired the seals from a respectful distance. (To read about Kaena Point’s seals, and others spotted around the islands, see monksealmania.blogspot.com.)

Kaena Point

©2013 Susan Scott

This westernmost corner of Oahu gets our youngsters out hiking and, at the same time, teaches in the best way: by showing rather than telling. A troop of Kame­ha­meha students arrived as we left.

A sparkling diamond on the pinkie finger of Oahu, Kaena Point proves that given protection from vehicles and introduced predators, wildlife and humans can, even on a crowded island, coexist.

This special state preserve is a good place to visit any time, but especially so this week of Thanksgiving. If anything on this island makes me feel thankful to be alive, healthy and living on Oahu, it’s the precious point we call Kaena.

I’m already planning my next trip.

monk seal

Juvenile Monk Seal, Kaena Point. ©2013 Scott R. Davis

Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2013 Susan Scott