Sandy Beach’s New Inhabitants: Green Sea Turtles and Seabirds Adapt to Rising Sea Levels for Nesting

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As sea levels continue to rise, many islands are being impacted, including habitats for both land and marine life.

Sandy Beach is the latest location to welcome an influx of nesting refugees, with an increasing number of green sea turtles (honu) and their hatchlings, as well as Native Hawaiian seabird fledglings, seeking refuge on Oahu’s shores.

To ensure that these young creatures have a safe passage from their nest to the ocean, the City and County of Honolulu have taken steps to temporarily turn off several lights at the popular Sandy Beach Park.

“As stewards of these public lands, it is important for us to find a balance between the environmental, recreational, and cultural needs of park users and the wildlife that enjoy these shared spaces,” said DPR Director Laura H. Thielen.

“We hope that turning off these lights is a big first step in giving this precious young wildlife a better chance at survival, as well as an opportunity for the public to become more informed about this nesting situation.”

This effort is being conducted in conjunction with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the State Department of Land and Natural Resources, Mālama i Nā Honu, and the DesignLight Consortium, as well as electricians from the Department of Facility Maintenance.

DPR Director Laura H. Thielen expressed gratitude to the government, non-profit, and volunteer partners who have played a role in guiding the protection and education efforts for wildlife conservation.

The lights have been turned off on around a dozen free-standing and comfort stations at the Hālona Blow Hole side of the beach park to help reduce the risk of disorientation for the honu and seabird hatchlings as they make their first trek into the ocean.

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“Our team has documented a significant increase in nesting by honu since 2020,” said Sheldon Plentovich, Ph.D., with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Unfortunately, hatchling sea turtles can be easily disoriented by nighttime lighting. To help out honu, we can use artificial lighting responsibly by minimizing light, using amber or red-colored bulbs, and shielding light so that the bulb is not visible from the beach.”

The lights will remain deactivated until biologists confirm that the hatchlings have fledged from their nests at Sandy Beach, which is expected to occur through mid-November 2023.

“We greatly appreciate the proactive efforts from the City and County of Honolulu towards the conservation and protection of our native seabirds and honu,” said Afsheen Siddiqi, Wildlife Biologist with the State Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR).

Officials reported that the first six honu nests were found in mid-July, with approximately 72 eggs buried from the undeveloped, blowhole side of the beach to Ocean Safety Lifeguard Tower 4B.

Biologists and volunteers erected barriers to protect the nests and provide shielding from the lights.

“Hatchlings tend to emerge from their buried nests at night, guided by moonlight and other celestial light sources towards the ocean,” said officials.

“This makes the young honu prone to disorientation from artificial lighting, potentially leading them away from their intended ocean destination.”

Initially, biologists believed they only needed to turn off the lights closest to the nests, but they soon discovered that additional deactivation was necessary to protect the hatchlings on their journey.

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“We greatly appreciate the proactive efforts from the City and County of Honolulu towards the conservation and protection of our native seabirds and honu,” said Afsheen Siddiqi, Wildlife Biologist with the State Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR).

The lights also affect baby seabirds, causing disorientation and exhaustion, leading to “fallout” and making them more vulnerable to predators, starvation, and vehicular collisions.

Officials are urging residents and visitors to respect the life of these creatures and leave them to their natural hatching process without interference since Sandy Beach doesn’t have evening closure hours.

If anyone finds a downed seabird away from their burrow, they can bring them to a drop-off location or a vet clinic like Feather and Fur, who have been active partners in seabird response over the years.

Skeletochronology Testing, Detecting The Age Of A Turtle

Skeletochronology is currently the only scientific method for determining a sea turtle’s nearly exact age.

However, this test can only be performed on a dead sea turtle, making it impossible for average turtle enthusiasts to perform.

To conduct the test, scientists or turtle researchers examine the humerus, ilium, scapula, and femur bones of a dead sea turtle to determine its age and growth rate.

These bones develop lines of arrested annual growth (LAGs), which scientists can count by slicing a piece of bone from the dead turtle.

It’s important to note that even with skeletochronology testing, the exact age of a sea turtle may not be determined.

Nonetheless, it remains a valuable tool for researchers and scientists in studying the life history of sea turtles. Interested in learning more about sea turtles and detecting their age? This might help you How To Tell The Age Of A Sea Turtle?

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About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.

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