MAALAEA - Maui Ocean Center will release six juvenile green sea turtles (honu) into the ocean on Thursday, Aug. 29, at 10:30 a.m. from the shores fronting the Kaanapali Beach Hotel.
Many of the aquarium's employees, who have spent two years feeding, cleaning and caring for the honu, will be joined by staff of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources' Division of Aquatic Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Kaanapali Beach Hotel to witness the turtles' introduction into the open ocean.
"These two-year-old turtles are healthy and ready for life in the open ocean," said John Gorman, curator at Maui Ocean Center.
Maui Ocean Center released green sea turtles at Kaanapali Beach in 2011.
"Maui Ocean Center has been a part of Sea Life Park Hawaii's Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle Educational Loan Program since we opened in 1998. This is our third release from shore, the second on the West Side, and we are very happy to have the community and visitors participate in this event."
The turtles will weigh around 20-30 pounds each at release. Through Sea Life Park Hawaii's loan program, Maui Ocean Center has released 48 green sea turtles over the past 15 years to the open ocean.
The event will begin at 9 a.m. with festivities and educational opportunities, including presentations by prominent local marine biologists, researchers and community members; informational booths; a turtle encounter; a blessing of the turtles; and live music.
Presenters include Cheryl King of the Hawksbill Recovery Project, Ka'au Abraham of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary and author/researcher Peter Bennett.
Several organizations will be on-hand to share information and answer questions, including the Hawksbill Recovery Project, Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, Kaanapali Beach Hotel and Maui Ocean Center.
A highlight of the morning will be the chance to experience an up-close and personal encounter with the honu and Maui Ocean Center's curatorial staff.
At 10:30 a.m., the honu will each receive a blessing by Kahu Dane Maxwell, Maui Ocean Center's Hawaiian cultural advisor, prior to being released to the ocean.
Throughout the event, from 9 a.m. to noon, enjoy live music by Marty Dread.
"We are honored to work with the agencies and individuals that help make this possible and for the opportunity to bring people together for this significant event," said Kate Zolezzi, the aquarium's general manager.
"In Hawaiian culture, green sea turtles are one of several species important for sustenance and considered na 'aumakua, a family's ancestral god or deity that takes the form of an animal. The remarkable history of the Hawaiian people and their profound connection to the sea is at the heart of who we are at Maui Ocean Center."
Shortly after the turtles arrived at the aquarium, their unique personalities began to stand out, and a turtle naming contest was held.
Each turtle was appropriately named: Lawakua (of strong physique), Kai Kama (ocean child), Mimo (quiet, capable, yet unassuming), Ana'ole (insatiable, never satisfied), Miki Iki (small and active), and Waha lina (fussy, finicky about food).
The turtles will be marked in white with "MOC" and the numbers one through six on their shells. Maui residents and visitors are urged to keep an eye out for these turtles. If you encounter one, please note the day, time and location, and contact Maui Ocean Center at 270-7000 or firstname.lastname@example.org to help with tracking the turtles.
The shore release is made possible with the assistance of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of Land and Natural Resources, Kaanapali Beach Hotel and other organizations participating in the event.
The event is free and open to the public. A special event parking rate of $5 is available at Kaanapali Beach Hotel with validation. Validation is available at Maui Ocean Center's information table at the event. For more information, call 270-7000 or visit www.mauioceancenter.com.
The turtles were hatched at Sea Life Park Hawaii on Oahu and have lived at Maui Ocean Center since July 2011. Sea Life Park Hawaii is home to a colony of adult Hawaiian green sea turtles that has produced approximately 200-800 hatchlings each year, all of which are released into the wild. Some of these turtles, like the ones at Maui Ocean Center, and those kept at Sea Life Park Hawaii or other collaborating institutions, are released at a later age to provide an educational opportunity for those that visit these institutions, as part of the loan program.
Each of the six turtles being released by Maui Ocean Center will be outfitted with Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tags implanted in both rear flippers. The tags, small microchips about the size of a grain of rice, contain an electromagnetic code. Using hand-held scanners, researchers are able to identify PIT-tagged turtles. When the turtles are recovered through research efforts, the PIT tags will allow researchers to identify them as the honu released from Maui Ocean Center.