Honu - The Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle

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Green Sea Turtles are Hawaii's ambassador to the ocean. Here's a little background on them.

• General: Educational • General: Guide • General: Kid Friendly

Sea turtles are one of the few, existing ancient creatures that inhabited the planet 150 million years ago during the Jurassic Period. Legend has it that it was the green sea turtle that led the Polynesians to Hawaii. They are known to travel as far as 150 miles to lay eggs at their own birthing location. It's the lucky few that actually hatch as birds, crabs, and other predators devour the eggs.

It's not uncommon to view a sea turtle off of Hawaii's shores. Snorkelers and SCUBA divers can experience the grace and beauty of these creatures up close and personal, however they are a protected species and it's illegal to go within 8 feet of them or to touch them. There are two varieties of sea turtles commonly seen off of Hawaii beaches. The Green Sea Turtle or Honu is listed as a “threatened” species, and the Honu'ea (or Hawaiian hawksbill turtle) which is considered an endangered species under the endangered species act.

Green Sea Turtles can be seen throughout various tropical location. The "Honu" Hawaiian green sea turtle is different from other species in that it nests primarily in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Unfortunately, there was a large decline in the number of green sea turtles in the early 1970s due primarily to the illegal harvesting of the eggs for selling. However, the numbers of green sea turtles has grown over the last 30 years because of the legislation in 1978 protecting them from poachers and fishermen.

Physical Attributes

  • An average adult Honu is about forty inches in length and can weigh as much as 350 pounds.

  • They have 5 vertebral scutes, the bony plate on a turtle's shell, and 4 costal scutes.

  • Another unique feature of the green sea turtle are the two big prefrontal scales situated in the middle of their eyes.


An adult green sea turtle likes to eat algae in order to survive. There are more than more 275 different species of seagrass that have been discovered inside the stomachs of Honu. Other types of foods consumed by sea turtles include jellyfish, sponges, mollusks, and tubeworms.

The Life Span

A sea turtle's exact lifespan is unknown, but they are believed to live as long as 70 years. Over 90 percent of the Honu green sea turtles live and nest in French Frigate Shoals, which is the largest atoll in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. They travel to feed largely in the seaside areas of Hawaiian Islands.

Possible Threats

Sadly, sea turtles get caught up in fishing nets, or killed by propellers on watercraft. They have been hunted and still are illegally hunted today which threatens their survival. In addition to the threat man poses on the green sea turtle, Illness is considered to be the largest to endangerment to the green sea turtles.

Fibropapillomatosis is a disease specific to sea turtles, which leads to the development of tumors on the uncovered tissues of the neck and head. While these tumors don't seem to be accompanied by other negative effects or signs, the location of the tumor can be fatal. For instance, when a tumor spreads large enough to block the eyes or mouth, the turtle might starve because of the incapability to ingest or locate food. Tumors in the eyes might also impair visualization, so its capability to keep away from predators is reduced. Today, it is illegal to approach, harvest, or kill a sea turtle.

Where To View A Sea Turtle

The green sea turtles can be seen Hawaii, but one of the most popular places on O'ahu to view them is at Laniakea Beach (Turtle Beach). Tour buses will stop here and allow visitors to get up close and view them, as they love to crawl up and relax on the beach here. Conservation groups will often create a rope barrier surrounding the honu to protect them from being disturbed by curious visitors.

But if you're on any of the islands, look for reefy areas and you're likely to see one feeding offshore. If you're not on the islands, consider these awesome [PID:7] and bring a little honu with you wherever you go!