- Associated Press - Monday, June 12, 2017

HILO, Hawaii (AP) - The green turtle and the more elusive hawksbill turtle come ashore to nest this time of year in the Hawaiian Islands.

A team of three researchers are camped out, waiting for them to arrive.

The researchers will stay at their spot for up to five months, monitoring how many females come ashore, how many nests are dug, and how many hatchlings make it to the open ocean.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Research Biologist T. Todd Jones said researchers recently counted 35 nesting turtles in one night. As of last week, the team had observed close to 180 individual turtles.

Jones, who also is the leader of the Marine Turtle Biology and Assessment Program, said it could be a “bigger year out there.”

Female green turtles can lay between two and seven nests per season, although turtles don’t nest every year. One female tracked by NOAA first laid eggs in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands 38 years ago, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports (https://bit.ly/2riDLvA ).

Ninety-six percent of all honu in the state head to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to lay their eggs.

“The Northwesterns have more sandy areas and sandy spits for them to nest on,” Jones said.

Peak nesting season is in June, with some females continuing to lay eggs as late as September.

Green turtle populations have been increasing at a steady rate of about 5 percent annually since the 1980s, when federal protections were first put in place.

“We’re lucky in the sense that in Hawaii, people really value being able to see turtles,” said Michelle Bogardus, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service team manager for Maui Nui and Hawaii Island.

In other parts of the Pacific, turtle poaching is still a significant threat.

The NOAA turtle team estimates there are between 3,000 and 4,000 female honu, and an overall population of about 8,000.

The overall honu’ea population in the state is estimated to be between 200 and 300. Since tagging of turtles began in 1991 on the Big Island, just 150 females have been identified.

Hawksbill turtles nest on Maui and the Big Island, primarily along the southern coast in Ka’u. The Hawaii Island volunteer team found its first nest two weeks ago.

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