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Tee Smith
HWF Intern - Summer 2014

HWF intern Tee Smith, center, poses with two other HWF interns and an inflatable Ninja turtle they used as a prop to help educate beach goers about Hawaii's sea turtles.

>  The past couple months have been an opportunity of a lifetime. I traveled from Massachusetts to Maui to work with Hawaii Wildlife Fund. The trip was an Environmental Internship funded by Patagonia. Over those two months I learned about the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle (Honu) and the Hawksbill Turtle (Honu'ea). I have worked for Patagonia for the past several years and was given the opportunity to leave and volunteer for any environmentally based nonprofit I could dream of. I began communicating with Hawaii Wildlife Fund and decided that I really wanted to work with them on their Sea Turtle protection and recovery efforts.

One of the biggest projects I participated in was the Honu Watch. A few other volunteers, interns and myself, plus Hannah and Cheryl of HWF, would watch over the turtles on one of the beaches on Maui where they crawl ashore to bask and rest. Every single night there would be 20, 30, 40 or more turtles all piling up on a section of the beach. We would arrive at 2:30pm and stay until 8pm. Sick turtles would come onto the beach early, and others waited until sundown to come crawling up. A long stretch of reef blocked most of the turtles from the beach. This reef offered a ton of algae for the turtles to eat. They would make it down the reef, and have an easy spot to climb up the sand into a protected corner. Large clay walls also protected the beach from lights and noise from vehicles and people. Along the beach are large dark rocks that allow the turtles to blend into the landscape.

More people continue to hear about this phenomenon of the basking Honu, so it is important that we were on the beach to educate. While protecting the resting turtles on the beach, and collecting data, my job was also to educate people about the turtles' habits, health, and everything between. Many of them have tumors from a virus called Fibropapillomatosis, which is most likely related to forms of runoff and pollution. Stress can also make this worse. I spent a lot of time making sure that people didn't invade the turtles' space. I would show up at 2:30pm and hear from the lifeguards that there were people getting too close, and that they were thankful we were there to help them. The Honu Watch project started because the locals and lifeguards were sick of seeing people abuse the resting Honu. While I was there I would see people try to touch, pick up and once sit on these wild animals. Without Honu Watch the Honu would probably give up on basking in this very special spot. This natural and rare occurrence needs to continue to be protected, and it needs to be used as an area for people to learn firsthand of the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle.

Many people come down to see the turltes and are just so curious and passionate about learning. Some start volunteering and others just pass on knowledge to the next person. Doing this work felt so meaningful and good every day I was there. Two months was not enough. I ended my internship at the end of September and am now planning to move back to continue with Honu Watch and other HWF turtle protection projects. Watching the turtles march up the beach every night at sunset was magical, I began to know the Honu with their different characteristics and personalities. This was one of the greatest experiences of my life and am so glad I was able to learn about this species in such an intimate way.


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