Calling All Citizen Scientists! Honu Count 2019 Has Begun

August 12, 2019

Every year, we ask residents and visitors to help us carefully count sea turtles, or honu, on the main Hawaiian Islands.

Basking sea turtles on the shores of French Frigate Shoals.

Basking green sea turtles on Tern Island, French Frigate Shoals, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

About 25 percent of Hawaiʻi green sea turtles, or honu, migrate to French Frigate Shoals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to nest each year. During the summer field survey, biologists etch a temporary number on the turtles’ shells. The numbers stick for about a year, and make it easy to identify each turtle. In mid-summer, the turtles begin returning to the main Hawaiian Islands, where NOAA Fisheries’ Marine Turtle Biology and Assessment Program looks for them again. Keep reading to see how you can help!

Sea turtles use the earth’s magnetism to navigate to their natal beaches to mate and lay eggs. Then they return to their favorite “home” foraging grounds in the main Hawaiian Islands.

Motherload and other sea turtles basking on Trig Island, French Frigate Shoals, in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

OA48, nicknamed “Motherload,” was seen basking on the remnants of Trig Island, French Frigate Shoals, in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands several weeks before her 500-mile migration back to O‘ahu’s North Shore. Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Shawn Farry.

Our beloved OA48 (nicknamed Motherload) is one of these turtles. In March, we attached a satellite tag to Motherload’s shell on the North Shore of Oʻahu before she migrated to nesting grounds. She laid four clutches (nests) of eggs during her 3-month stay at French Frigate Shoals. We tracked her 1,000-mile round-trip migration and can see that she has made it back home to the North Shore.

OA48, Motherload return tracks from French Frigate Shoals.

Motherload’s return trip (red line) from French Frigate Shoals to the North Shore of Oʻahu, stopping at Niʻihau and Kauaʻi along the way.

Motherload isn’t alone in her travels. There are two other females with satellite tags (E36 and E95). Many more green sea turtles are also making their way back home from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Where will they end up?

This is where YOU come in. We need your help spotting turtles with temporary alpha-numeric marks (like “OA48”) on their shells. Send us the GPS coordinates or beach names where you see these turtles. We can use that information to understand what areas of the main Hawaiian Islands are most important for sea turtle foraging.

E36 (lower blue marker) and E95’s migrations from French Frigate Shoals.

E36 (lower blue marker) and E95’s migrations from French Frigate Shoals to their home foraging ground. Where are their homes? Can you help us find out?

Tracking these turtles also helps us understand green sea turtle habitats, migration, and distribution. The public has reported a total of 15 adult turtles with distinct numbers since Honu Count started in 2017. These turtles were sighted on Oʻahu, Kauaʻi, and Maui. NOAA will respond and share any information available on the turtles. 

So far this year, three males have been spotted: two on the North Shore and one in Kāneʻohe Bay, Oahu. The research team expects an influx of turtles returning from French Frigate Shoals to be seen on or near our coastlines in the next few weeks.

Honu Count 2019

Please be on the lookout! If you see a turtle with a white number, follow these steps:

  1. Keep a respectful distance of 10 feet (3 meters).

  2. Take a photo of the number (without disturbing the turtle).

  3. Record the location (for example name of beach/body of water, dropped pin, or GPS coordinates).

  4. Email NOAA to report the turtle’s number and location: RespectWildlife@noaa.gov.

    2019 Honu (turtle) count flyer on how you can help.