By Becky Hommon, Navy Region Hawaii, Environmental Counsel
Navy ohana (family) worked together on April 29 to save a honu (turtle) in distress.
A swimmer reported to the Hickam marina staff that a turtle was offshore and entangled in fishing gear. Gavin Doi, a marina staff member, knew to call the Joint Base “turtle phone” and reported a turtle in distress to Rebecca Smith and Cory Campora, natural resource managers for Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam at Naval Facilities Engineering Command Hawaii.
Smith and Doi along with Allen Sterling from the marina staff motored out into the marina area and after some time searching found the large turtle wrapped in ropes and gear mixed with plastic. Pulling alongside, the three managed to cut much of the growth-encrusted gear off the turtle.
However, some of the rope and line was so tightly wound around the animal’s flipper, they decided the animal needed more help. Getting a heavy marine animal into a boat is no small feat.
“He was hanging onto the edge of the boat for dear life, wanting to stay in the water but we knew he would die if we weren’t able to help him,” Smith said.
Finally, the animal and attached gear was in the boat. Campora was on shore waiting with a truck to transport the animal to NOAA’s (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Inouye Regional Center on Ford Island.
Devon Francke and Sarah Alessi, biologists with NOAA’s turtle research program, determined the turtle was a 185-pound healthy male but in need of surgery. His flipper was severely damaged and was surgically removed. The animal is now rehabilitating in a pool and, with luck, will be returned to the wild.
“It was exciting to have a direct role in helping an animal. It’s great to be working for an organization that takes its wildlife protection responsibilities so seriously. I’m so pleased our MWR staff watches out for the animals and called us so we could respond,” Smith said.
Globally, green sea turtles are one of seven species of turtles that live in the sea. Hawaii’s most abundant sea turtles are greens and the hawksbill turtle, found most often on Hawaii Island. While seemingly abundant because of their frequency in and around Pearl Harbor, as a species, green sea turtles are at risk of extinction globally. As a result, they are still considered “threatened,” according to the federal Endangered Species Act. Harming a threatened or endangered species is a serious federal offense.
Campora noted, however, that “if a turtle is in danger, anyone can try to help untangle them without fear of prosecution, but it’s good to report them as well.” Animals in peril in the Pearl Harbor vicinity should be reported to the base turtle phone at 722-7285.
For off-base sighting of marine species in need of assistance, call NOAA during business hours at 725-5730 or after hours at 288-5685.