Weekly Summary--Week 1 (04/07/03)

Dive One

Although we arrived Wednesday afternoon, it took us until Friday to get wet. Even then, we managed to get in only a single dive. Conditions weren't ideal, since a small south swell was (and still is) making the water murky, but we weren't discouraged. The first dive is always exciting and this one was no exception. For a checkout dive, this one went really well.

Some things never seem to change...

We swam slowly out to Reef 2, since the full moon right now makes for strong currents. Upon arrival, it was almost as though no time had passed since our last dive in 2003. We immediately spotted a turtle swimming down from getting air at the surface. The flight path alone was enough to recognize Wana, headed directly to the same resting place we'd left her 10 months ago. We set ourselves up for a "photo op" on either side of her favourite hole in the reef, and sure enough she glided in and settled down, ignoring us completely. We got our picture, and even before we left, she'd closed her eyes and started to drift off. What a lovely start to the summer!

Wana glided in and settled down, ignoring us completely.

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...but not everything remains the same

Two or three kicks away from Wana's lair, however, we saw our first sign of change this summer. Three metal rods protruded from the coral.

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Metal rods protruded from the coral.


This was not a Bad Thing at all. During the winter, Hawaii State Biologist Skippy Hau had written to us with news that we greeted with great joy. He was working on a new project studying the reefs of West Maui, and our dive site was one of the areas they'd chosen. The rods are transect markers so that they can be sure they are monitoring the same areas over time. We discovered two more sets during our dive, and Skippy tells us we can expect to find up to 10 scattered around the reef.

We are looking forward to seeing the outcome of this study, but of course it will be a while before they can begin to draw conclusions. We can wait. It's already been 15 years, so we can wait a few more. If the honu have taught us anything, it's patience--and tenacity.

Zeus's Lair

Every year, George Balazs gives us temperature loggers to put out at various parts of our dive site, so one of our first duties each summer is to retrieve them and send them off to George. The logger for Reef 2 is always placed at Zeus's Lair, which used to be a prominent and easily recognized part of the reef. No longer.

Thanks to our familiarity with Reef 2, we had no trouble locating the logger.

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Thanks to our familiarity with Reef 2, we had no trouble locating the logger, but it sure wasn't because we had a landmark to help us. The years have not been kind to Zeus's Lair, and it is now beaten down to the point where it's just another pile of broken coral. Who to blame? Cetainly not Zeus, who no longer hangs around that area and wasn't even sighted last summer. We hope that changes this year.

New record for longest residency

One of our oldest friends, Nui.

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As we continued our dive, we came across one of our oldest friends, Nui. This was special because with this sighting, he became the new holder of the record for longest residency. We first met Nui in 1990, and watched him mature into a handsome male. We also watched him battle fibropapilloma and win, although he still carries a shrunken reminder on his right shoulder.

In some years, Nui is skinny and seems to be exhausted, which we think means he's been off at the French Frigate Shoals helping to make more honu. From what we saw this time, it looks like Nui took this season off. That's okay, because it means we get to have him around all summer. He's a reminder of how long we've been diving with the Honokowai ohana, and how successful many of them have been in their struggle with the cursed tumors.

Tutu and Mendelbrot accounted for

We should also mention that George Balazs reported that the other contender for the residency record, Tutu, made it safely to the Shoals and had been seen nesting. We expected her to be absent, so this was excellent news. Now we just hope that she returns safely to her place on Reef 2. With luck, she might even return before our summer is over. We're keeping our fingers crossed.

We haven't seen Mendelbrot at Honokowai for a couple of years, but to us she's still part of the local ohana. We were concerned for her safety until George told us that she, too, was nesting this season at the Shoals. We hope she comes back to Honokowai, but if not, at least we know she was still alive and well.

Preliminary results looking good

It's early yet, but our first dive produced encouraging results for the Honokowai honu. We identified 15 turtles, 12 of whom were sighted in previous years. We saw several more turtles, but didn't capture images of them that were good enough for identification.

The Good News is that with the exception of a single honu, only close inspection would reveal FP in any of them. Even our exception is a regression case who is recovering nicely.

We haven't had a chance yet to visit our newly developed second site, Kuamo'o, but there we know that the news will not be good. Kuamo'o sadly reminds us of Honokowai in the mid-90s, with a high rate of fibropapilloma affliction. Fortunately, we know now that recovery is likely and that over the next few years, we will probably be documenting regression there the way we've seen it at Honokowai. It won't be pretty but it will be satisfying.

Excavating 5690 Nest 2004-1

One of the highlights in our first week took place not underwater, but on dry land.

That most unusual honu, 5690, has been at it again this summer, making nests in West Maui instead of up at East Island where most lady honu go.

Her first nest this summer was in almost exactly the same place as her last nest in 2002, and we arrived on Maui just in time to be present at the excavation. Hatchlings had been spotted leaving the nest on June 30th, so on July 2nd Skippy Hau and Glynnis Nakai dug at the site to save any trapped stragglers and to analyze the remains in order to determine how many eggs were laid and how successfully they'd hatched.

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On July 2nd Skippy Hau and Glynnis Nakai dug at the site.


The excavation was a wonderful opportunity for people to learn about honu, especially since Skippy and Glynnis are not only knowledgeable about the turtles, but also take pleasure in educating anyone who is interested. Many of the people in the crowd were visitors to Maui who were getting their first exposure to the honu--in spectacular and rare fashion. In fact, because honu normally nest in such an isolated place, even most of the observers who had a lot of experience with honu had never before had the chance to see a honu hatchling in the flesh. Before the event was done, 5690 and her brood had touched each and every one of us with her special brand of aloha.

The gathering also gave us a great opportunity to see old friends and make new ones. One really special attendee who we were thrilled to see again was Mr. Sasaki, whom we met in 2002 when 5690 made a two nests right in front of his house. Mr. Sasaki is perhaps 5690's oldest admirer. We discussed turtles and the New York Yankees--in that order. He takes great interest in 5690's activities, and while he was disappointed that so far this season she hasn't chosen his house again, he (and we) still has hope. If 2002 is anything to go by, 5690 isn't finished making nests yet.

Mr. Sasaki is perhaps 5690's oldest admirer.

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While Mr. Sasaki was a star, he took second place that day to a really lucky little honu. It was a lucky day for the newly hatched turtle, who had been trapped under a rock. Were it not for the efforts of Skippy and Glynnis (and numerous volunteers and supporters), this tiny turtle would have died in the sand. Instead, a crowd of enthusiastic honu-lovers got to cheer the youngster on as she (he?) scrambled down the beach at sunset.

Like a highly motivated wind-up toy...

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...the little honu shifted into high gear, prompted by the ocean's wetness...

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...then kept going...

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...and was gone.

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Week 2 Summary
Summer of '04 at Honokowai
Turtle Happenings
Who's Who Underwater at Honokowai
Table of Contents
Last modified 04/07/10
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