Reduced light and caution urged during turtle nesting season

Sep. 22—A wayward turtle hatchling recently ended up at a skate park on Oahu's North Shore instead of in the ocean.

A wayward turtle hatchling recently ended up at a skate park on Oahu's North Shore instead of in the ocean.

The hatchling was disoriented by artificial lights, according to federal wildlife officials, who want to remind the public that sea turtle nesting season is still underway.

Fortunately, it was rescued, but others were likely not as lucky.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies are asking the public to be on the lookout for turtles on local beaches this nesting season, which began in mid-April and continues through September but can last as late as December.

Several species of turtles nest on Hawaii shorelines, including the well-known Hawaiian green sea turtles, or honu, along with Hawaiian hawskbills and olive ridley turtles.

Sea turtle hatchlings emerged out of their nest the night of Sept. 11 at Ehukai Beach Park, according to Sheldon Plentovich, Pacific islands coastal program coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Based on tracks leading to the water, about seven made it to the ocean that night, according to Plentovich. Another 15 were rescued from inside the nest where they were stuck.

She estimates about 50 hatchlings were disoriented at the beach park and that they headed mauka instead of makai due to the artificial lights, including the wayward one found at the skate park across the street.

"We are seeing this increase in sea turtle nesting in the main Hawaiian Islands that started in 2020, " said Plentovich, estimating an average of about 50 nests per year. "The biggest threat on Oahu and the main Hawaiian Islands are hatchling disorientation due to artificial, nighttime lights."

Nesting occurs nocturnally and hatchlings generally emerge at night.

As they emerge, hatchlings can become disoriented by any artificial lights visible from the beach because they rely on moonlight and celestial light to guide them out to sea.

They then wander inland, where they potentially get trapped or lost, reducing their chances of survival.

People should keep a respectful distance of more than 10 feet from sea turtles and their nests, USFWS said, and avoid shining bright lights near them after dusk.

Overnight camping at Bellows Field Beach Park was once again in mid-May to protect nesting sea turtles but reopened over Labor Day weekend.

Suspensions began in 2020, when honu nesting sites were documented for the along the shoreline, possibly due to reduced foot traffic during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are currently turtle nests at various Oahu beaches, according to Plentovich, including several at Sandy Beach in East Honolulu, where artificial nighttime lights pose a threat.

The best way to help is to use shielded lights, according to Plentovich. The state Department of Land and Natural Resources offers a on wildlife ­-friendly lighting.

"In a nutshell, if you can see the bulb or the light source from the beach, it's not wildlife-friendly, " said Plentovich. "It needs to be shielded so the light is not splaying out sideways or upward. What we say is keep it low, keep it long, as low to the ground as you can."

Just one light can do it, she added.

A few years ago, over a hundred turtle hatchlings at James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge on Oahu were disoriented by a bright light miles away, on a ridge near a wind farm.

The majority of honu journey to the French Frigate Shoals, or Lalo, a remote island atoll at Papahanau ­mokuakea Marine National Monument, to nest, but that habitat is now threatened due to sea level rise.