On May 31, 2001, the latest turtle tagging crew arrived at French Frigate Shoals to monitor the nesting activity of Hawaii's green turtles (honu). East Island has been the site of intensive research during each breeding season since 1973 and the 2001 season marks the 29th consecutive year of these efforts.
The tagging of turtles at the French Frigate Shoals is a marvellous success story. The number of nesting females continues to grow steadily as the honu population struggles its way back to recovery. They've had plenty of help along the way, thanks to the dedicated team of researchers and volunteers at the both Federal and State levels.
One man orchestrated this recovery effort, however. Not only was he there from the earliest beginning, he actually started it all. We asked George Balazs about those early days. He wrote:
"I just went to my 1973 fieldnote book. I flew there for the first time on June 1, 1973. We set down on Tern Island at about 12:15 pm. I walked the Tern Island beach that night. No signs of turtle nesting observed.
"On June 3, 1973 I first set foot on East Island, setting up a tent and small campsite. I went out to search for turtles at 7:15 pm (sunset was 7:50 pm--as it still is). No turtles up nesting as yet...
"We set down on Tern Island at about 12:15 pm. I walked the Tern Island beach that night. No signs of turtle nesting observed. On June 3, 1973 I first set foot on East Island, setting up a tent and small campsite."
G. H. Balazs, 1973 notes
"Turtles were encountered and tagged that night on subsequent walkarounds, but not many of course compared to now."
Not as many indeed. That Hawaii is blessed with so many honu gracing its ocean is directly the result of George's dedication.
Says Dr. Mike Salmon, a respected sea turtle biologist: "George almost single-handed saved the Hawaiian sea turtle, He's one of the true heroes of the conservation movement."
In his new book, Fire in the Turtle House, Osha Gray Davidson refers to George as "a pragmatic visionary."
"Visionary"... and yet we are left to wonder that even with his intellect and vision, whether George could have imagined that his first footsteps on the honu's nesting grounds at East Island would be just the first of so many more--or that his presence there on June 1st, 1973, halted the honu's slide into extinction and signalled recovery.
George H. Balazs interrupts his examination of a honu to take a congratulatory phone call from Canada while a student tends to the turtle.
Photo by Marc Rice
On June 1st, 2001, just before 12 noon Hawaiian time, we phoned George to congratulate him on the occasion. As usual, George was hard at work, this time in the field, but he interrupted his routine long enough to take our call. Marc Rice snapped a photo to remember the occasion. Ursula spoke to Marc to ask him a favour--give George a hug from us at the stroke of noon. We have it on good authority that Marc delivered. Mahalo, Marc.
On May 30th, 2001, George emailed this graph to us, and it is posted here with his kind permission. He chose to grace the graph with an image of a handsome honu. We're especially proud he chose a Honokowai honu--Goofyfoot--a good friend of ours.
"The issues come, the issues go, the turtles--they persist. With our help."
--George H. Balazs, June 13, 1997
--George H. Balazs, June 13, 1997
French Frigate Shoals--25th Anniversary
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