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Honu Count 2021 Is On—And We Need Your Help!

June 16, 2021

Residents and visitors: help us track sea turtles, or honu, in the main Hawaiian Islands.

Marked green sea turtle swimming. Green sea turtle numbered MA72 was treated for fishing line entanglement at the Maui Ocean Center Marine Institute and seen swimming off Honokeana Cove, West Maui. Sightings of rehabilitated animals help researchers track their recovery process.

Imagine swimming 1,200 miles round trip to bring new life into the world. While an impossible feat for humans, this is exactly what our Hawaiian green sea turtles, or honu, do each year. And when they make this migration, NOAA Fisheries is there to track them—but we could use your help!

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Map of the Hawaiian Archipelago.
Green sea turtles nest and feed throughout the Hawaiian archipelago. Every 2 to 5 years, they return to nest on a beach in the general area where they hatched decades earlier.

Honu that live around the main Hawaiian Islands migrate to French Frigate Shoals in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument during the spring. They use the earth’s magnetic field to navigate to the beaches where they were born. There, they mate and lay eggs. More than 90 percent of all honu nest at French Frigate Shoals (the rest nest at other areas within the Hawaiian Islands).

Since 1973, NOAA Fisheries biologists have been monitoring honu nesting activity during their summer field survey in the monument. They count every nesting and basking turtle they come across. They also etch temporary numbers on their shells. These numbers last for about a year and allow for easy identification.

The turtles return to their “home” foraging grounds after nesting. By tracking these turtles, we can better understand important honu habitats and distribution throughout the main Hawaiian Islands. Additionally, any turtle that has been treated and released by NOAA’s stranding program also receives a number in order to monitor their recovery. Therefore, reporting numbered turtles contributes to both science and conservation!

Get Involved

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A group of large green sea turtles on the beach.
Assessing green sea turtle populations helps researchers evaluate the effectiveness of conservation and recovery measures, and can help guide actions to enhance recovery.

NOAA Fisheries needs your help to spot honu with the temporary alpha-numeric marks (like “TM95” or “OA48”) on their shells. Here’s how you can take part in this fun and important citizen science project:

  • Be on the lookout for turtles with a white number on their shell
  • Keep a respectful distance of 10 feet if you spot one
  • Take a photo of the number, without disturbing the turtle
  • Record the date, time, and location—include the name of the beach/body of water, a dropped map pin, or GPS coordinates
  • Email RespectWildlife@noaa.gov to report the turtle’s number and sighting details

To report any emergencies (dead or injured animals) call NOAA’s Marine Wildlife Hotline: (888) 256-9840. 

Good luck—and thank you!

Last updated by Pacific Islands Regional Office on June 17, 2021

Sea Turtles