Hawaiian Green Turtle

Don’t Touch Hawaiian Sea Turtles Like This Visitor Just Did

Needless to say, we love our Honu, the endangered and protected Hawaiian green sea turtle. We know most of you do as well. We have been writing about them since Beat of Hawaii began in 2008.

Observation guidelines: Turtles are generally not afraid of people. They are, however, protected by law, and it’s illegal to touch them as was done here. Do not chase or scare turtles, hinder their movement, or swim within 20 feet.

This week, what caught our attention isn’t something we would like to report. But here it is. It comes from a State Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) press release.

“Maui Visitor Cited After Lifting Sea Turtle Out of the Water.”

A Ka’anapali Maui visitor from Georgia, age 60, lifted a federally and state-protected green sea turtle out of the water last week. He claimed that he “was very sorry” and didn’t realize his actions were illegal. Huh?  DLNR rightly said that ignorance of the law is no defense.

Last week, the incident got reported via the DLNR Tip phone app, including photos and video of the man and his son in shallow water. The visitors claimed a turtle swam toward them. When the man picked it up out of the water, bystanders hollered at him, and he released the turtle back into the ocean.

DLNR Enforcement Chief Jason Redulla said, “unfortunately, we can’t reach every single person who encounters a turtle or other marine wildlife and hope that people will use their common sense and show respect to these creatures. Ignorance of the law has never been a good defense.”

The man was cited under Hawaii state law for prohibited activities, and the case was referred to federal authorities.

DLNR asks that anyone who witnesses wildlife harassment call the 24-hour DOCARE hotline at (808) 643-DLNR or report suspected violations via the free DLNR Tip app.

Learn About Our Beloved Honu

1. Green: Protected by the endangered species act, and weighing up to 500 pounds, their lifespan is believed to be very long. Green turtles live close to the shores of our islands, feed primarily on seaweed, and swim up to 35 mph. One of the most ancient species of the world, they existed before dinosaurs.

2. Hawksbill: The elusive, nearly extinct hawksbill, ‘ea’ in Hawaiian, is noted for its shiny shell. It is still hunted illegally due to its high value. There are only a few dozen hawksbills still found in Hawaii.

3. Leatherback: The largest of all living turtles (in fact, all sea reptiles), this species has no shell and is covered by a black rubber-like skin and oily flesh. Leatherbacks dwell in deep water away from the island shores, and can weigh up to one ton.

You observe Hawaiian sea turtles on all the major islands: The best sites are on the Big Island’s Kona side. Likely beaches include Anaehoomalu Bay, Honaunau, Kahaluu Beach, Kahuwai Bay, Kukio Beach, and Punaluu Black Sand Beach. Also, on Kauai at and around Poipu Beach Park and Brennecke’s Beach.

If you’ve seen a Hawaiian Sea Turtle, please share your experiences.

18 thoughts on “Don’t Touch Hawaiian Sea Turtles Like This Visitor Just Did”

  1. When I was in Hawaii a sea turtle swam right into my lap as I was sitting on an indentation in the rocks and my lap was below the water level. Completely unsolicited by me. Wonderful ,gentle , curious crestures.

  2. As well as being illegal, touching turtles or other wildlife can transfer diseases from you to them and from them to you. Just because they live in the ocean does not mean that they are clean! And you can transfer some illness you may be carrying to the wildlife causing possible unforeseen impacts. Green sea turtles carry Salmonella on their shells which can make you very sick. Stay 10 feet away from turtles, 50 feet away from monk seals. Hands off! If you see a marine species that is entangled or that is injured, do not approach- on Kauai, call 808-561-7668 to get assistance.

  3. We always see green sea turtles while snorkeling, but about 5 years ago, we had an awesome experience. We were snorkeling off one of the Wailea beaches, and I had my phone in my Ugo (a Waterproof zippered bag that allows you to use your phone under water). A sea turtle was swam right next to us, and then came back our way, so I started recording. When I watched the video later,not only did we see the turtle, but there was whale song as background music!

  4. Love & Respect these graceful creatures! I am always in awe of their “poetic gentle dancing” in the currents! My last visit to Kaanapali Black Rock early am (@hour or so past dawn) I saw maybe 20+ beauties- I lost count! I was in Sea turtle Heaven! On another trip while knee deep in very clear water, I spotted a little guy swimming parallel to the shore very near me. I respectfully walked with him for many yards as if I was walking with a dog off leash…he swam right next to me & seemed to enjoy our little excursion till a wave came and he went back out. In the past I have had to push, kick or pull visitors away from them near Kaanapali Black Rock…they have no idea how to view them at a respectful and healthy distance…I have intervened with all ages, all sizes, all ethnicities of clueless people who have literally blocked the turtles from surfacing to breathe-ugh!!! I wish there were clear pictorial signs to tell visitors how to engage or not with the sea turtles as well as more education by the hotel/condos etc…via a pictorial pamphlet that again shows what not to do when viewing sea turtles & clear indication of laws of protection (pictorial that way, different language pamphlets are not needed:)…ignorance is not bliss and these beautiful creatures deserve better! Thanks BOH for allowing me to share:)
    ps…I once got an awesome pic of a one flipper Sea turtle dancing in Waimea Bay, Oahu & was able to share that with Bethany Hamilton when I met her. I think she appreciated the beauty of nature:)

    1. Thank you! Very well said!I have several times found it necessary to instruct tourists to maintain a respectful distance from our beloved honu!
      The sign telling people to keep a good distance from the turtles has disappeared from Poipu beach!
      Hopefully, it will be replaced soon.

  5. One of my first trips to Maui there was a big sea turtle sunning itself on the beach. I was so excited. I stood next to it to get a picture. I didn’t touch it but boy, when I posted the picture I sure got flack for it!

  6. My dream job is to be a honu body guard. I love sea turtles and feel it a privilege whenever I get to see one. My husband and I visited Punalu’u Beach once and were in complete awe of the turtles sunning themselves on the sand (from a respectful distance of course).

  7. Idea! Refuse to not allow tourists (and whoever) who touch / bother wildlife on Hawaii, never entry onto the islands again. Now that’s a fine even the dumbest people breaking animal rules will understand!

    Ugh! Poor turtles 🐢 & Monk Seals 🦭…..

    I respect & love them from afar! Zero touching- ever!!!!!!!

  8. Living on Oahu during the pandemic I would escape out of the house to Laniakea Beach aka turtle beach. Since there were no visitors the turtles were very friendly. There is one turtle known by the researchers as Olive. She liked to bump people from behind. She would often swim around me…turtle breath stinks. I was very upset when I would see people (mostly locals at that time) trying to feed or harass them. Just be still…they will come up to you!

  9. This makes me so sad, it is one thing to accidentally swim too close but to intentionally lift one out of the water? That is just stupidity! People need to understand that they need to be respecting of nature – leave it the way you found it.

    In July 2021 we sighted a green turtle at little beach south of Wailea and another one in the bay at Black Rock on Kaanapali. The turtle at Black Rock actually swam into a swimmer – everyone was very respectful and kept their distance.

    I will say that every day as we walked the beaches of Kaanapali we picked up trash, water bottles, hair ties, plastic bags that people left behind. I just do not understand this sense of entitlement and plain bad manners. It isn’t okay anywhere. Period. End of story.

  10. Hmmmm. Guessing I know this fella was able to get here courtesy of the $99 fare wars. Just another example of the “new” tourist that’s coming in droves to our islands.
    Also read that his home state of Georgia has a law against touching turtles…doubt he didn’t know the law.
    Mahalo BOH for all your hard work. Always look forward to your daily info.

    1. You hit the nail on the head, Chris!

      Most of these “new” tourists are “stimmy” travelers and have no business spending this money on vacations.

  11. One of my most favorite things to do in Hawaii is to observe the Sea Turtles on the beach and if I am very lucky, see one when snorkeling. It makes me so angry whenever I watch them on the beach that stupid people think the rules don’t apply to them, and go very close to and touch the turtles. They encourage their children to get close to take photos and grown adults, much like this 60 year old, ignore rules and do what they want, often following the turtles. If I lived in Hawaii I would volunteer to stay on the beaches they like to sun on and keep the people away. I wish there was more the state could do to protect them from these people. Sadly it happens every single time I see them without fail.

    1. Love to hear this out of visitors such as yourselves. Was at my beach in Maui a couple of weeks ago and a lifeguard had to tell a tourist 3 times to leave the turtle alone and had to threaten to call the police.
      These people we don’t need.

    2. are there volunteer groups available to man the busier locations? I am semi retired, and I would not mind joining such a group on occasion if I lived on Hawaii

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