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Group helps to rescue, relocate hawksbill sea turtle nest

Nest was at risk of collapsing and falling into ocean

Volunteers remove eggs from a nest of endangered hawksbill turtle eggs Friday on Maui. The next high tide was expected to wash away the nest so officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Hawaii Wildlife Fund decided to relocate its 241 eggs to a safer location. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo

The Maui News

A hawksbill sea turtle nest was rescued on Maui on Friday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Hawaii Wildlife Fund reported.

The nest with 241 eggs was within inches of collapsing into the surf when a team of biologists and volunteers relocated it, officials said. They did not disclose the exact location of the site to protect the nests.

On Thursday, the Hawaii Wildlife Fund contacted U.S. Fish and Wildlife staff to report that the nest and all of its eggs were in danger. The shoreline scarp, a steep cliff formed by surf, was within 30 inches of the nest. The next high tide cycle would have exposed the egg chamber, washing the entire clutch of eggs out to sea, officials said.

“Hawksbills are incredibly rare, and with so few nests in Hawaii a loss like this would have been devastating,” said Michelle Bogardus, team leader for Maui Nui and Hawaii Islands Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office.

Officials said there are only four hawksbill nests on Maui this nesting season, and there are fewer than 100 adult hawksbill females known to nest in the Hawaiian Islands. Female hawksbills lay an average of 180 eggs in a nest, or clutch, but less than 1 percent of the hatchlings reach adulthood, officials said.

For weeks, staff and volunteers from the Hawaii Wildlife Fund had been watching the nest, which is in an area of high surf and tides. On Thursday afternoon, fund officials called the Fish and Wildlife Service to report that the scarp had eroded another 10 feet, and the hawksbill nest was in imminent danger of being washed away.

“Moving a nest like this is not something we normally do,” said Luke Sundquist co-coordinator of the Hawaii Wildlife Fund Hawksbill Recovery Project.

He said it was an extreme situation because hawksbills are critically endangered, and the nest was under imminent threat.

Nest relocations involve excavating a threatened nest, removing eggs and transporting them to a new nest in a safe location. The eggs must be kept in the same orientation throughout the entire process. Before the eggs are moved to a new nest site, the old egg chamber is measured so it can be exactly re-created at the new site, officials said.

Only a few people in Hawaii can do such a quick and delicate relocation, Bogardus said.

“We were just lucky that we happened to be close by when we got the call and could get here in time,” she said. “It’s a testament to the strength of the partnership and the dedication of the volunteers that we were able to take action so quickly.”

The relocated hawksbill nest was one of four on the beach that were all laid by a single female, officials said.

The first hawksbill nest of the season hatched the night before the relocation, with more than 170 hatchlings making it to the water.

“It’s been a wild 24 hours,” said Suzanne Conja, the other co-coordinator of the Hawksbill Recovery Project. “We’ve been worried about whether the first nest would hatch and whether the second would fall into the ocean. Last night, the first hatched and the second we were able to move to a spot with a better chance of survival.”

Hawksbill sea turtles were once heavily hunted and harvested for their shells, and they were listed as endangered in 1970 under the Endangered Species Act. The species’ population has been slow to recover despite years of conservation efforts.

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