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 firstname.lastname@example.org.