Beachgoer puts up fence protecting Po‘ipu honu

  • Scott Yunker / The Garden Island

    A honu basks behind a homemade sign telling beachgoers at Po‘ipu Beach Park to keep their distance.

  • Scott Yunker / The Garden Island

    Po‘ipu snowbird Tom Hennessy has spent half his time on Kaua‘i for the past five years, much of that time at Po‘ipu Beach Park when the Hawaiian green sea turtles come ashore to rest.

  • Scott Yunker / The Garden Island

    Tom Hennessy says dozens of honu come ashore at Po‘ipu Beach Park between the hours of 5 and 7 p.m. daily.

  • Scott Yunker / The Garden Island

    Visitors respect the simple barrier between them and honu, the Hawaiian sea turtle, as the honu come ashore to rest overnight. Many show enthusiasm, offering to help erect and improve parttime Kaua‘i resident Tom Hennessy’s simple barrier and information system.

PO‘IPU — Every evening, Tom Hennessy watches the sun slip below the Pacific from a chair at Po‘ipu Beach Park, surrounded by locals, tourists and green sea turtles.

But last week, Hennessy’s daily visit was disturbed when he saw visitors harassing the endangered honu.

“There was … I will say 150 people, and they were crowding each other. The kids were running around the turtles. They would get up to three feet from the turtle and take a flash picture right in their eyes,” Hennessy recalled Thursday, as he settled in for sunset. “I’m going, ‘This is totally wrong … I’m going to figure out some way to give these turtles some space.’”

So he did.

The following night, Hennessy purchased 100 feet of tow rope and placed it several feet above the turtles’ usual basking places on the shoreline. He noticed beachgoers immediately respected the simple boundary, but discovered his rope was not long enough to completely surround the turtles’ resting area.

Hennessy experimented with 200-foot lengths of yellow and red ropes on subsequent nights.

“I’m an industrial designer, so I like to solve problems,” he said.

Before long, Hennessy began to receive assistance from enthusiastic residents and visitors who shared his concern for the turtles’ well-being. Some move rocks to hold ropes; some brainstorm design improvements; and some surprise Hennessy by coming back with new equipment.

“Bill and Angie of Horseheads, New York, showed up with a fluorescent rope and these little orange cones,” Hennessy said. “They said, ‘I saw these, we thought we’d grab some of these.’”

Hennessy has also added modified solar-powered lights to his rope barrier, to illuminate visitors and a nearby turtle-awareness sign while keeping the honu themselves in darkness.

All of these developments have taken place in less than seven days.

Hennessy has not consulted with state or federal wildlife officials in regard to his barrier, as of Thursday. “I just went for it,” he explained.

But the public appears unanimous in its approval. Hennessy said he’s frequently approached by supportive locals, and tourists interviewed by The Garden Island expressed similar appreciation.

“I think this rope thing is great,” said Joe Mohr, standing on the beach with Makayla Mohr. The two hail from Nebraska and South Dakota, respectively.

“It’s a good idea to keep us out, because as you can see, there’s a lot of bystanders that swarm this area,” Mohr continued. “There was a recommendation from someone we met on the island to come see this.”

Hennessy hopes to eventually collaborate with government officials, nearby monk-seal volunteers or community members to create a formal, more-durable barrier system. One of his ideas includes a board-and-rope fence that could be hammered into place in the evenings and easily removed when the turtles depart.

In the meantime, Hennessy may be found on Po‘ipu Beach at sunset, watching over the turtles will a little help from his friends — and thoughtful strangers.

•••

Scott Yunker, reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or syunker@thegardenisland.com.

11 Comments
  1. EH November 1, 2021 4:19 am Reply

    Thank you very much Mr. Hennessy!

    After seeing how over 20 honu returned to Poipu while the island was closed I contacted NOAA, DNLR and the Hawai’i Tourism Authority. I suggested they could take some steps to coordinate or support some simple protection and education (signage or even volunteer or ranger-led Q & A) that would protect the honu and support the visitor industry. There was no interest.

    I hope that your reaching out to these and/or other entities yields some support for the honu. In the meantime I applaud and greatly appreciate your efforts.


    1. Kevin Ryan November 1, 2021 7:24 pm Reply

      If there was a funding account for this I would contribute to it. We were there a few weeks ago to see this. So awsome!


  2. therealhawaiian November 1, 2021 7:47 am Reply

    Does anyone know why Monk Seals aren’t like every other animal on earth that I’m aware of? I can’t think of an animal in the wild that doesn’t go to places that they feel are safe for them, instead of going to the same places over and over again that are overcrowded with clueless dopes from all over the world? There are many areas for them to “rest” on the beach that aren’t overrun with the masses. Are these animals kind of like the Dodo Bird? Having a bunch of “well intended” cowboys and girls roaming the earth to police their own brand of rules and regulations on the masses seems like a formula for disaster in the long run!


    1. Wailua Girl November 2, 2021 12:04 pm Reply

      There are many animals who return to the same place to give birth. Rather than blame the seals, how about support these efforts to protect them? Seems like a much more productive way to spend your time.


  3. Lawaibob November 1, 2021 8:50 am Reply

    Mahalo, Tom.


  4. Doug November 1, 2021 9:59 am Reply

    That’s the only way things get done on this island anymore (protecting turtles, beach maintenance, minor road repair)! God forbid that our state and county officials step up and do their jobs! Bravo for your efforts, however I can see the state coming along and pulling it all up because they didn’t take the initiative and it wasn’t done by them, but I hope not!


  5. Greg November 1, 2021 10:54 am Reply

    Big Mahalo


  6. J.N Hull November 1, 2021 12:01 pm Reply

    Thanks to these activists. I saw a gallery coming too close and shining bright lights on a dozen honu on that same beach in July. When I alerted a lifeguard to this abuse he basically said it was not his job, and that if he alerts the DLNR, even more people arrive to crowd in.

    Please DLNR and authorities – protect our Honu! And thanks to those who do in their absence.


  7. Debbie Beck November 1, 2021 12:26 pm Reply

    During a previous visit, the lifeguard corded off an area around the sea animals.
    Everyone was respectful.


  8. The Big Kahuna November 1, 2021 6:52 pm Reply

    Thanks Tom, job well done!!

    Often times I counted 30-35 families of turtles during the pandemic that came up every night. I didn’t realize how many turtles live in the caves along the lava coast, protecting them from predators at night. The sandy beach at Poipu is over flow accommodations for those that don’t secure a deep water cave at night. There must be thousands of native local turtles that fish and live so peacefully.

    To me a seeing the echo system free of people during Covid closure, I had a chance to witness nature at its finest and captured both monk seals and turtles resting on Poipu beach side by side.


  9. Victoria November 1, 2021 7:32 pm Reply

    In August 2021 my husband and I saw photos taken regularly within 2-3 feet of the turtles AND saw a couple post up their towel right by the sign where the turtles come in & then proceed to change their baby’s diaper about 4-5 feet from a turtle’s face. You are the local hero we were hoping would come along!!!


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