Hawksbill Recovery

Editor’s note: Madeline has been off all fall doing fieldwork in Hawaii, I’ve asked my co-editor to help us get back in the swing of things by starting off talking about Hawaii, turtles, and opportunities for other students – Chris

by M Motley

It’s no secret that I like turtles.  When I struggled to write my internship and senior project proposal, I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just write, “I like turtles,” over and over.  I know at least one other turtle enthusiast attending COA, and I sure hope there are more of you.  Not only because I need a group that shares my affinity for turtle-culture, but because Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is hiring!

I spent 10 weeks working for the Hawksbill Turtle Recovery Project, most of the time I spent my time hiking in the back country of the park.  Hawksbill turtles (Honu’ea) are highly endangered, typically less than 20 nesting females (laying 2-5 nests each) total are observed in a season.  However, this past season there were over 60 documented nests.  Hawksbills have been harvested for hundreds of years, for their eggs and their beautiful shell.  Their shells are often sold on the black market and made into “tortoise shell” jewelry.


Hike into Halape.

Honestly, this position is a dream for any COA student, turtle-enthusiast or not.  It completely fits the stereotype of COA- loving adventure, hiking, camping, conservation, and quite a few of us are trying to fulfill these interests through field ecology.  This volunteer position, which may count as your required internship, covers all of these things in abundance.  Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is looking for enthusiastic, positive people to work on the Hawksbill Turtle Recovery Project.

Here’s what you’ll be doing.  You will be hiking, between 5 to 12 miles a day, across Hawaii’s volcanic landscape to isolated nesting beaches.  You will be camping at these beaches for up to 6 nights, monitoring the beach from 5pm – 2am.  Some of these beaches are in the back country of the park, and others are accessed only by 4-wheel driving through private lands.  You will be camping at some beaches that many locals have only been to once.  (People will pay 300 dollars for a day at Pohue, and you will basically live there.)  Your job is to find nesting Hawksbill turtles, mark their nest, measure the turtle, tag the turtle, and ensure that the turtle returns to the ocean safely.  Later in the season your job will also include watching nests when they are expected to hatch, ensure hatchlings reach the ocean safely, and conduct nest excavations of recently hatched nests.  Imagine watching 200 turtles race towards the sea.


Halape, back country of the park.

You’ll need to wake up at 6am and check the beach for turtles or signs of turtle activity- some volunteers have had turtles the moment they woke up.  After you make breakfast at base camp, your job will be to hike to the nearby beaches and check for any sign that a turtle was there in the night.  If there was no activity then you get to go back to base camp and play in the sand, swim, and sleep.

This position isn’t for everyone.  If you know you get cranky on less than 8 hours for sleep, if you can’t stand other people, if you hate walking long distances, and if you can’t poop in a wag bag- don’t apply.  I do have to say this though.  Four hours of sleep per night may sound awful, but when you see a turtle coming out of the water at 1am your adrenaline will wake you right up.  Also, the stars in the backcountry are amazing.  One of the best, non-turtle related things, was the fact that I was able to watch the sun set, watch the stars and moon move throughout the night, study the moon cycle, and also get to wake up just in time for the sunrise.


Green sea turtle (Honu)* at Punalu’u, Black Sand Beach.

I guarantee that you will learn a lot about sea turtles, the ocean, and marine conservation.  As a bonus, you’ll learn all about Hawaii- culture, myths, wildlife, and geology.  You will also be based right in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, so you will have unlimited resources (park employees, books, the visitor center) to learn all about Hawaii.  Did I mention that, when out of the field, you will be a 5 minute walk from an actively erupting volcano?  That’s pretty cool.

Interested?  Here is a link to the job position.

*note: I am not allowed to post pictures of the Hawksbills (eggs, hatchlings, or adults) that I encountered on this project.  There were tons of green turtles around, though!

About marinestudiesatcoa

Chris is a professor of marine ecology and policy at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine
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