By JOHN DE GROOTE
Stephens Media Hawaii
The Fourth of July is usually reserved for celebrating our nation’s independence with fireworks, parades and cookouts, but on Thursday five turtles celebrated their freedom as they waded into the Pacific Ocean for the first time at the Mauna Lani Resort’s 24th annual Turtle Independence Day.
“It’s very exciting to think an animal being raised here is being released into the wild to be free,” Mauna Lani Resort Marketing Manager Susan Bredo said. “This event is all about education — not only in Hawaii but all over the world. People come through and leave with stories and memories that they will share back home.”
Hundreds gathered along the beach and in the water to see the young turtles get their first taste of independence.
The event is made possible by the resort’s ongoing partnership with Sea Life Park on Oahu. The park sends over three-to-five-month-old turtles from its captive breeding program which the resort then raises in ponds around its property until the animals are grown enough to join the wild population.
Pii Laeha is the Loko Ia manager at the Mauna Lani and responsible for the turtles while they are in the resort’s care.
“It’s great for the kids, and it helps people see the culture of Hawaii,” Laeha said. “The bigger picture is that we are trying to raise awareness not only about the turtles, but our environment in general.”
Sea turtles are ancient ocean dwellers that have lived on Earth for 150 million years. The sea turtle population has been steadily increasing since the reptiles were given federal protections in 1978 but the species is still listed as threatened under federal and state law.
The released turtles are tagged and researchers keep track of the former Mauna Lani residents.
“Little is known about them in the wild so it’s amazing to be able to track them and keep track of measurements and behavior,” Bredo said.
Since the program started nearly a quarter-century ago, more than 200 turtles have been released into the wild, Laeha said.
“You don’t get to see this every day and it was something different than the normal Fourth of July celebrations,” southern California resident Steve Wacrath said.
Susan Wacrath echoed her husband’s enjoyment.
“It was very interesting and heartwarming,” she said. “We enjoyed seeing where they went once they hit the water. It is something we will remember for a long time.”
Email John De Groote at firstname.lastname@example.org.