Turtles’ coming-out party

KOHALA COAST, Hawaii – Before some 800 onlookers, seven young green sea turtles were taken from nearby saltwater ponds where they had been raised and were ferried one by one on a white mesh stretcher toward the surf.

It was Turtle Independence Day on a Big Island beach.

The turtles, which measured up to nearly 3 feet in diameter, gave a couple of final fin flips or a quick look back at the shore before heading off from the coast in front of the Mauna Lani Resort, headed toward their new life adventures.

Since 1989, Oahu’s Sea Life Park has been providing young turtles to be raised in the ponds and then, once they reach age 2 or 3, set free on July 4.

The event includes educational booths, games, food and a special appearance by a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.

The Lague family from Minneapolis enjoyed an early lunch after visiting several booths and stopping at the face-painting table.

“I’ve seen turtles before, but not sea turtles. We don’t have sea turtles,” said Sydney, 9, who sported a blue turtle painted on her cheek. “I learned how they swim with their fins up and down. It’s kind of like they are flying.”

Parents Julie and Jude said they appreciated the opportunity to show their children that caring for the environment and wildlife can have a positive impact.

“Conservation does work. To see turtles come back shows it does happen,” Jude Lague said. “Just for the kids to see it means everything.”

Renato Lenzi, general manager at Sea Life Park, said the annual event is an important step in raising awareness and educating people about the endangered green sea turtle.

“Remember, they are messengers,” he told the crowd. “This delicate environment needs our help. Now, every day is Fourth of July for these turtles.”

Lenzi said he was pleased the day was geared toward children.

“It’s nice to see the kids get so excited to see the turtles,” he said. “They are one of the most important reasons we do this.”

A generation ago, green sea turtles were hunted for sport and restaurants’ dinner menus. But in 1978, the turtle was added to the federal endangered species list, making it a crime to kill or harass the animals.

While the number of green sea turtles is rebounding, Lenzi said, the task in not complete.

“They are on the verge of a recoup, but there’s still a lot to learn and find out,” Lenzi said. “You can only protect them if you know them.”

Associated Press

One of seven young green sea turtles is carried to shore Tuesday at a Hawaii resort. Turtle Independence Day is one of several programs helping to revive the endangered species.

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