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Orion the hawksbill sea turtle leaves Big Beach after nesting

Orion completed her final 2004 nest on Maui and took a victory lap around Molokini, Kaho’olawe, West Maui, and back past Big Beach.  She headed north between Maui and the Big Island, then northwest.  Fortunately she’d been fitted with a monitoring device so her extended journey has been tracked nearly to Kauai.  Her Maui nests were left to those who care.
Unfortunately, Orion was not observed making her final nest, so its exact location was not known.  Her monitor showed where she had hauled out and tracks showed the approximate location.  The area was nice, clean sand, about 125’ from the ocean.
On October 14th, 59 days after Orion’s work, a crew of volunteers stayed all night with this final nest.  Just as dawn was breaking on the 15th a cone shaped hole formed about 8” around and 4” deep, revealing the location of the nest.  A secondary hole about 4” by 2” formed right next to it.  At about 5 minute intervals low levels of activity could be seen.  This went on for what seemed like forever.  The sun popped out over Mt. Haleakala and concern mounted.  Daylight brings out mobs of beach visitors, predators, and the risk of overheating.
Judy called Cheryl for instructions.  Cheryl said that a daytime crew would soon be there and that she would come by as soon as she could.
The five-minute activity “surges” continued.  The first of the day crew showed up.  Finally a head popped up in the smaller of the two cones.  The eyes were totally obscured with caked sand and the head was very still.  The next surge revealed shoulders and front flippers but no apparent enthusiasm to get moving.  The body was oriented vertically.  One more surge and the body was clear of sand and mostly horizontal, but the hatchling seemed lethargic.
By this time, just a very few humans were on Big Beach, only one group nearby.  Mirna went over to the couple with a small child and invited them to observe.  The boy and his mother came over to the nest and the father went in the water with a camera.
More surges revealed odd flippers, heads and backs.  The first hatchling remained quiet.  Then a major surge released about ten hatchlings raring to go.  The first guy caught the fever and they all headed for the ocean.  Almost immediately the nest erupted with wave after wave of healthy, energetic, seemingly identical new lives.  They headed unerringly, straight for the ocean, stumbling over human footprints, plunging over a 2’ to 3’ berm, righting themselves and trotting right into the water.
About 180 hatchlings came out of the nest, made it to the water and of course disappeared from our view.  Once the first group of ten came out, it was all over with in about 15 minutes.  No land predators, humans, or obstacles made claims.  Inspection of the tracks shows that not one went in a wrong direction.  The “fan” of tracks started at 1’ wide at the nest and expanded to only about 20’ wide at the water.  Wave action spread the hatchlings over about 150’ before they all got into the water.
Orion may no longer be concerned, but with her excellent work on this nest and the protection of caring volunteers and naturalists, perhaps some small number of these new hawksbills will survive, mature, and come back to Maui nei in a few years to help pull the hawksbill turtle back from its endangered status.
That young man who observed this miracle has no idea how privileged he was, but the other handful of us who witnessed it feel deep gratitude.
Orion was the only hawksbill known to have nested on Maui this year.  She left four nests with varying degrees of success.  She was fitted with a transmitter as she worked on an early nest, so her activity on the final nest was electronically detected.  A few “props” were left around the general area making it look occupied, hopefully to keep beach visitors from walking on the nest.
Starting on day 58 and extending for an optimistic five days, Cheryl developed a duty roster of volunteers to watch over the nest.  A bunch of people showed up early evening on day 59 in the hopes of seeing action, but they thinned out one by one, leaving Eric, Judy and Pono for the long haul.  Mirna was the first dayshift to show up.  These four, the boy and his mother were the lucky witnesses.  Lots of people showed up after the event to marvel at the fan of tracks and to hear the story told again and again by those who saw it.

The rest of the story:

Friday night Tom and Jan sat with the nest.  Two single hatchlings came out some 8 hours apart and made it safely to the water.

Sunday evening Skippy and Glynnis excavated the nest.  They found three more hatchlings and just a few undeveloped eggs.  They took samples of the sand on the top and bottom of the nest, counted and saved the shells, measured the hatchlings and the nest, took a GPS reading of the nest and an accurate measurement from the nest to the water.

Orion produced about 190 eggs in nest 4 of which 185 hatched and made it to the ocean.  This was the last and most productive of her four nests on Maui in 2004.

Mahalo Orion - a hui hou!