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Hana Hamon
HWF Intern - September 2014

Hana Hamon
Hana Hamon lives on Jersey, an island close to France. After experiencing eco-work in Mauritius, she continued her work in conservation on Maui where she interned for HWF for a few weeks in September 2014.

"Learning about the silent marine wildlife
allows me to understand its happiness,
its needs and aches."

> I have been volunteering and taking part in internships a few times now and in different places. In spite of coming from a land-locked country in the middle of Europe, I love marine wildlife. I also love outdoor activities and this is where it all started. At college, I was thinking of becoming a veterinary doctor but decided instead on a career in the finance industry. My favourite way of spending holiday time however is participating in wildlife conservation projects. This is my way of giving something back to nature. I feel partially responsible for the pollution of my own natural habitat and I find hard to imagine what it is like to live in the ocean. Learning about the silent marine wildlife allows me to understand its happiness, its needs and aches. Working on these internships alongside biologists, marine biologists, marine life scientists and experts in wildlife conservation is a fantastic and invaluable learning experience.

This special place brings some of the marine wildlife right out on the beach. The local people are naturally protective of it and live in a respectful friendship with the surrounding nature. My internship in Hawaii fell in the busiest time of the Hawaii Wildlife Fund - the sea turtles nesting season. I was involved in the everyday (and some nights) work of the dedicated team. The Hawaii Green Sea Turtles have developed into a kind of their own found only around these Pacific islands and, together with Hawksbills, they chose the Hawaii islands as their safe home in which to feed, nest and let their young ones to continue the life cycle.

It was indescribably rewarding to watch one of the longest-living reptiles on our planet happily laying eggs in the same place where they maybe 20 years ago hatched themselves. It left everyone speechless seeing the tiny little hatchling in the sand nest and then watch it marching towards its massive new home in the ocean. No one can predict what the same beach will look like when these little ones return 15 or 20-odd years later to dig their own nests or even whether the sand will still be there. That is of course if they are lucky enough to survive as only one in a thousand little baby turtles will make it through the full life cycle. Hence they are an endangered species.

Without intervening with the natural process the team ensures that the Hawaiian wildlife has the best conditions for its natural development. One turtle can nest 3-8 times during her nesting period. I took turns in patrolling beaches for both the nesting mamas and the nests ready to hatch. I walked the beaches at one-hour intervals with other volunteers during the nights to identify and locate nesting females and their newly made nests. We then visibly marked the new nest the following day so that it would not be accidentally destroyed by anyone. Data collected by HWF experts over the years helps them to predict each nesting female turtle's action. There were females nesting on the north, some on south and others on the west side of the island, basically all around the Hawaii islands. I learned how to spot and distinguish tracks of adults, babies and nests as they all differ between the Green turtles and Hawksbills.

Three days after the baby turtles leave the nest the Hawaii Wildlife Fund team excavates the nests. I watched and participated in such excavations. Some nests contained no eggs. Most of the nests had shells of hatched and several unhatched eggs. The lead scientist collects data about each nest that helps to build up statistics and prognosis about the sea turtle life development. I learned about the research data and HWF's research work. It's amazing to be able to predict where and when each female will nest and then await her arrival. Most of the turtles are known so well to WF that they have been given names.

HWF team and volunteers help to maintain comfortable conditions for the sea turtles as much as they can. During my stay, the additional regular activities were cleaning up beaches, collecting data about the type of human rubbish left behind on the beaches and in the water or washed out on the coast, and building up protective barriers from street and house lights around the nests that were close to the emerging date.

I also took turns doing the beach watching for basking turtles. I even got time to enjoy the turtles' company and to watch them in their natural habitat in the sea as they came close to me showing their friendliness and trust whilst searching for food and feeding on algae around corals in the bay. All of these are very hands-on activities and there was lots of interaction with many people. On some occasions I encountered some very curious tourists who were a little challenging and these were the moments when the beach patrols had to step in and keep the tourists out of the turtles' private space. Many tourists however were genuinely interested in the life of the Hawaiian sea turtles and wanted to know more about the rare phenomenon of basking and the visible illnesses. I had many conversations with lovely people from all over the world who were very keen to share their experiences with turtles and their wildlife stories.

Seeing unwell and very ill turtles close up made many visitors quickly realize how much we humans pollute the ocean waters. They were happy and keen to arrange donations to Hawaii Wildlife Fund. The tumour-like growths on some turtles are so large that they eventually obstruct the turtle's mobility and basic living functions so much that the turtle will die at some point. HWF is raising money to run a basic local surgery that could serve the most ill and injured turtles as they cannot be treated in the general veterinary practices and this gives them a second chance by prolonging their life. Rarely the very ill turtles are flown to the neighboring island for treatment but this is even more expensive. I was indirectly involved in fund raising for Hawaii Wildlife Fund and I also made a donation myself.

During my internship I was given the opportunity to learn valuable information in presentations organized by Hawaii Wildlife Fund. For example, I would mention a presentation about plastics and plastic recycling worldwide which has been spreading both well known and lesser known research results. My internship studies were enriched by other local experts and one from Florida. At the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale Sanctuary Visitor Center I attended an interesting talk about the current research and development in conservation in Florida and a very informative presentation about the network and procedures when responding to public calls reporting stranded or distressed turtles and what to do when visiting the reported location. This is a knowledge that can be applied to all wildlife anywhere in the world.

The internship experience was not limited just to sea turtles. On one occasion I was amongst HWF team members at the market stall surrounded by local musicians and artists and learned about activities of other nonprofit wildlife conservation organizations and sanctuaries in Hawaii. The event took place under an enormous and beautiful banyan tree. The market event welcomed thousands of visiting tourists arriving on cruise ships. I was introduced to the monk seal conservation team and learned about local and invasive fish species and various corals. On other days I visited an aquarium, national and federal parks, learned about agriculture, native and invasive plants, history, geology, meteorology and the Polynesian culture. I even saw a vast by where whales meet and mate. I dived, snorkeled, sailed, walked, drove and flew and it was everywhere the wildlife nature of Hawaii. I must say I appreciated every day.

My internship with Hawaii Wildlife Funds will help with my future wildlife conservation volunteering and internships anywhere in the world. I intend to volunteer for conservation zoo work where I live. It would be great to come back to Hawaii in the future. I would particularly love to be back in Hawaii when the treatment of unwell turtles becomes available in the new surgery.

Hana with HWF Team
Hana with HWF Team
Hawai'i Wildlife Fund       PO Box 790637 Paia, HI 96779      808.280.8124       wild@aloha.net      http://wildhawaii.org
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