Maui Ocean Center Releases Six Green Sea Turtles

August 25, 2010—MA‘ALAEA, MAUI, HI - Maui Ocean Center released six juvenile green sea turtles into the ocean the morning of Wednesday, August 25 during a special release voyage aboard Pacific Whale Foundation’s vessel Ocean Intrigue.  Many of the aquarium’s employees and volunteers, who have spent two years feeding, cleaning and caring for the honu, were joined by Pacific Whale Foundation staff to witness the turtles’ introduction into the open ocean.  Through an ongoing field science educational partnership program that Pacific Whale Foundation conducts with Kihei Charter School, 25 middle school students were also onboard as observers.

“We have given these turtles the best of care and they are very healthy and ready for a life in the open ocean,” said John Gorman, Curator at Maui Ocean Center.  According to Gorman, the turtles weigh around 30 pounds each and are two years old.  They were transported to the ocean area off South Maui aboard Ocean Intrigue and were released near Five Graves and Pu‘u Olai.

The release was made possible with the help of the Pacific Whale Foundation, which generously donated the use of their crew and vessel, and Maui Oil Company which donated 36 gallons of diesel fuel.

“This is our third year of donating our vessel for the sea turtle release program,” said Tracy Jones, Executive Director at Pacific Whale Foundation.  “As an organization that has worked hard to help protect turtles and their ocean home, we are very pleased to help introduce these turtles into their wild ocean habitat.”

Maui Ocean Center’s Hawaiian cultural advisor Kahu Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell, Sr. performed a traditional blessing for each turtle before it was released to the ocean.

“In Hawaiian culture, green sea turtles are considered na ‘aumakua, a family’s ancestral god or deity that takes the form of an animal,” says Kate Zolezzi, General Manager at Maui Ocean Center.  “In respect for the island’s host culture and the marine animals displayed at the aquarium, we are honored to have Maxwell present for the introduction or release of animals at Maui Ocean Center.”

For the students from Kihei Charter School, the turtle release was an exciting way to kick-off the start of an intensive at-sea learning program with Pacific Whale Foundation. The students will be participating in 21 learning days on the ocean between September and May, traveling aboard Pacific Whale Foundation’s boats and learning nautical skills and marine research techniques. 

During the release, the students and other attendees heard a short presentation about the turtles by John Gorman and also learned about the natural history of the area from Pacific Whale Foundation marine naturalist Morgan Smith.

Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle Educational Loan Program

The sea turtles are part of the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle Educational Loan Program, conducted under the supervision of National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).  This program is specifically designed as an educational outreach program geared towards education, conservation, and the enhancement of the public's awareness of the oceans and its inhabitants.

The turtles were hatched at Sea Life Park Hawaii on Oahu and have lived at Maui Ocean Center since August 2008.  Sea Life Park Hawaii is home to a colony of adult Hawaiian green sea turtles which has produced approximately 200 to 800 hatchlings each year, all of which are released into the wild.  Some of these turtles, like the ones at Maui Ocean Center, and those kept at Sea Life Park Hawaii or other collaborating institutions, are released at a later age to provide an educational opportunity for those that visit these institutions, as part of the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle Educational Loan Program.

When the hatchlings reach the ages of two to three years, under the authority and approval of NMFS, they are released into Hawaiian waters at a location approved by the agency.  Sea Life Park Hawaii replaces those turtles released with new hatchlings in order to maintain each facility's educational display program.

Each of the six turtles released by Maui Ocean Center was outfitted with Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tags implanted in both rear flippers.  The tags, small microchips about the size of a grain of rice, contain an electromagnetic code.  Using hand-held scanners, researchers are able to identify PIT-tagged turtles.  When the turtles return to land, the PIT tags will allow NMFS and researchers to identify them as the turtles released from Maui Ocean Center.

In addition, the turtles are marked with white letters, A through F, on their shells.  Maui residents and visitors are urged to keep an eye out for these turtles.  If you encounter one, please note the time and location, and contact Maui Ocean Center at (808) 270-7000 to help with tracking the turtles.

Maui Ocean Center

Maui Ocean Center displays live coral and Hawaiian marine life in over 60 vibrant exhibits.  Twenty-five percent of the animals found at Maui Ocean Center are endemic, meaning they are found nowhere else in the world.  In addition to daily marine life presentations given by ocean naturalists, Maui Ocean Center highlights specific marine species with enhanced presentations, special guest talks, hands-on activities, upgradeable behind the scenes tours and more each month.  Throughout August, Maui Ocean Center celebrates “Sea Turtle Mania” with interactive events that allow guests to experience green sea turtles up close and personal with the opportunity to learn about the biology, behavior and diet of these amazing creatures.  Program details can be found at www.mauioceancenter.com.

Pacific Whale Foundation

Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, Pacific Whale Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting whales, dolphins and the ocean environment through research, education and conservation programs.  Sea turtles are viewed on many of Pacific Whale Foundation’s Eco-Adventures, which include snorkel cruises to Molokini, wild dolphin watch cruises, whalewatches and sunset cruises.  Pacific Whale Foundation also publishes a color guide to Hawaii’s sea turtles, which can be obtained free at Pacific Whale Foundation’s Ocean Discovery Stores at 612 Front Street in Lahaina or at the Ma‘alaea Harbor Shops, next to Maui Ocean Center.  To learn more, visit www.pacificwhale.org or call (808) 249-8811.