Honu‘ea (Hawaiian hawksbill turtle)

Eretmochelys imbricata

Honu‘ea (Hawaiian Hawksbill Turtle)
(Hawaiian hawksbill turtle)
The "other" Sea Turtle in Hawai‘i

Green sea turtles are common around the island, but our coastal waters also harbor its more elusive and rare cousin—the Hawaiian hawksbill turtle. Called honu ʻea or ʻea by Hawaiians, they feed almost exclusively on sponges. Males never come to shore and females only do so in order to nest. Of the few beaches they nest on statewide, three are protected along the remote coast in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. The female waits until night to crawl ashore and uses her hind flippers to dig a narrow egg chamber in the sand near vegetation. After she deposits and covers an average of 180 eggs, she returns to the sea, leaving the eggs to incubate during the next two months. Hatchlings emerge under cover of darkness as the sand temperature begins to drop a few hours after sunset. They find the ocean by crawling towards the brighter, open horizon. Along the way to the sea, they face a variety of predatory crabs, rats, mongooses, cats, dogs and pigs. Once they reach the ocean, large fish and other sea creatures find them irresistible. As few as one in 1,000 honu 'ea hatchlings survive to adulthood.

Fewer than 20 Females Nest in a Year
Loss of nesting habitat, predation and poaching have reduced honu'ea populations to critically low levels. On their last remote nesting beaches, artificial lights may attract and disorient nesting females and hatchlings, causing them to head away from the water where they become stranded and die.

Your Actions Directly Impact Their Future
Since fires and lights disorient nesting turtles and hatchlings, do not build campfires when camping at the beach during the nesting season. Cover your flashlight lens with a red filter to minimize the bright white light and remember to direct the light beams away from the ocean. To discourage predators, always keep beaches clean of food scraps. Follow these simple precautions and honu 'ea might have a chance for a bright future in Hawai'i.

Last updated: January 3, 2020

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