‘Anini turtle dies due to propeller injuries

A green sea turtle died yesterday morning more than a week after being struck by a boat propeller.

The 350-pound female honu, believed to be about 75 years old, was found near ‘Anini Beach 10 days ago with parallel slash marks on her carapace (shell) and a 4- to 5-inch gash across the top of her skull, said Don Heacock, district aquatic biologist with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

“We knew from 10 days ago this was a very bad wound,” Heacock said. “We did everything we could.”

Heacock said a necropsy would not be performed, but he is planning to take out the shoulder bone to determine the turtle’s age.

Heacock thinks a boat propeller was to blame for the turtle’s injuries.

“Speed kills — she was hit by a boat,” Heacock said. “(The question is) how much of this can be avoided?”

Heacock was called on the scene last week after the turtle was spotted by an off-duty Hanalei firefighter. Heacock called Lihu‘e veterinarian Dr. David Haas, who assessed the turtle’s injuries. Because the membrane around the brain was not ruptured, the skull was patched with an epoxy.

After the epoxy was applied, Heacock held the turtle in captivity for a few days for monitoring. He then brought the turtle back to her home at ‘Anini Beach.

“This turtle lived at ‘Anini,” Heacock said. “When it’s time for her to nest, she went to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.”

The turtle was watched daily by Haas and other volunteers.

Sue Boynton of Kilauea said she tended to the turtle three times a day.

“We put her back in the shallow water to keep her shell wet,” Boynton said. “We tried to keep her cool.”

But after some curious visitors started poking the turtle with sticks, Boynton put up some stakes, made a sign and cordoned off the area.

“We flagged her off, put up a sign and just kept watch,” Boynton said.

After moving around quite a bit the day before, she wasn’t moving much yesterday, Boynton said.

“Her injuries were so bad — she just never recovered,” Boynton said. “We did the best we could.”

Boynton said awareness needs to be raised about marine vessel strikes.

“Things like that do happen,” she said of vessel strikes. “It’s smart to pay real attention, especially in the summertime — there are lots of boats out.”

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Offices of Protected Resources, all six species of sea turtles in the United States are protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

“The population has recovered, but they are still protected,” Heacock said. “In the entire Hawaiian archipelago, there are approximately 156,000 turtles.”

The NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service share the jurisdiction of the sea turtles. NOAA Fisheries is responsible for the conservation and recovery of sea turtles in the marine environment; the USFWS is responsible for sea turtles on nesting beaches.

“It’s a huge loss,” Heacock said of the turtle’s death. “We need lots of females for the population to recover.”

• Rachel Gehrlein, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or rgehrlein@kauaipubco.com

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