In early October 2018, Hurricane Walaka formed quickly and headed straight toward French Frigate Shoals, an atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. This atoll is made up of several tiny islets, some of which are highly dynamic and come and go (awash) each season. Five of the islets, however—East, Tern, Trig, Gin, and Little Gin—are generally static. They are also the nesting locations for 96 percent of Hawaiian green sea turtles.
The hurricane hit with category 5 winds, washing away almost all 11 acres of East Island, where more than half of these turtles nest. Females had finished laying eggs for the 2018 season, but 19 percent of the nests laid on East Island were lost. Trig Island also went awash earlier that year, leaving only Tern and the Gin Islands for suitable sea turtle nesting habitat.
The team didn’t want the most promising turtle to evade them, so they shifted their plan to ultrasound the newcomer next. Much to their delight, the ultrasound showed that this robust female was indeed gravid—the follicles in her ovaries were filled with yolk!