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Hawaii’s boaters must watch out for turtles

Green Sea Turtle
Green Sea TurtleNOAA

Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) describes the two types of sea turtles most frequently observed in near-shore waters as the green sea turtle (honu) and the hawksbill sea turtle (‘ea).

And as local residents and visitors alike enjoy being able to view those animals on the beach and in the water, the DLNR recently reminded the public – including recreational boaters - to respect the sea turtles by viewing those protected animals responsibly.

“We ask for people’s help to ensure turtles are not disturbed, which is especially a concern at high-visitor use beaches,” said DLNR Chairperson William J. Aila, Jr. “We want to remind the community that all sea turtles are protected, and that both state and federal consequences apply to anyone harming green sea turtles.”

The DLNR notes that in particular, locations such as Laniakea and Ali‘i beaches on the North Shore of O‘ahu as well as other locations on Maui, Kaua‘i, and the island of Hawai‘i have become popular locations to view “basking” (resting) honu. And although this provides an excellent viewing opportunity, it is important to act responsibly and keep a respectful distance.

The DLNR urges people to give basking honu space to allow them to rest undisturbed, and suggests keeping a 6- to 10-foot buffer as a best practice for sea turtle viewing. It also advises the public to not touch, pick up, restrain, jump over, straddle, pursue, ride, harass, harm, or otherwise disturb these animals.

“In the water, turtles may appear friendly or curious; however, for your safety and theirs, please view them from a distance, act responsibly, and never feed turtles,” Aila added. “A turtle that associates people with food can act aggressively and may bite.”

The green sea turtle is listed as threatened and the hawksbill sea turtle is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Although green sea turtle populations are recovering, they still face threats, including destruction and alteration of nesting and feeding areas, incidental capture in commercial and recreational fisheries, entanglement in and ingestion of marine debris, poaching, disease, vessel strikes, and climate change.

Although federal and state wildlife conservation laws differ in some respects, all prohibit actions that can harm, injure, kill, or otherwise disturb sea turtles without a permit. Feeding or touching turtles in any way is considered a disturbance and therefore illegal.

To report suspected violations, the public is asked to call the DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) at (808) 587-0077 or 643-DLNR.