Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Efforts produce more nesting turtles

A surge in new nesting Hawaiian hawksbill sea turtles over the past several years may be evidence that a 20-year-old protection effort is finally producing new baby turtles.

An intensive program has been under way since 1989 to protect the nests of the endangered turtles on more than a dozen remote Big Island beaches.

The local population of the species was seriously in need of help, said Larry Katahira, a Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park resource management specialist who ran the program until retiring three years ago. Katahira said fishermen who frequented the coast told him that prior to the program's start, very few hatchlings made it to the ocean.

Several dozen volunteers now spend several months each year working to improve those chances. From June to December, a crew of mostly college students treks along the Puna and Ka'u coasts. Camping at known nesting beaches, they trap and kill mongooses, rats and feral cats that prey on the hatchlings as they leave the nest.

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