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    A Discovery Worth Shell-ebrating

    Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) Biologists Excavate Sea Turtle Nest

    Photo By Petty Officer 2nd Class Samantha Jetzer | 221110-N-ML137-1007 KEKAHA, Hawai`i (Nov. 10, 2022) — Biologists with the...... read more read more



    Story by Petty Officer 2nd Class Samantha Jetzer 

    Pacific Missile Range Facility

    A rhythmic tune of breaking waves was the only sound that could be heard in the calmness of night as the tide methodically rolled over the nearby coral reef. Gentle waves of frothy sea foam cascaded across the soft pale sand of Kohomahana. The beach was narrow and lay over some small hills next to the airfield at Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF), Barking Sands. This was the site that offered sanctuary to one green sea turtle in search of a place to nest.

    Despite the peaceful night, the beach was steep which offered a challenge to the nesting mother to climb. She dragged her body across the sand to reach the safety of the vegetation near the top of the dunes. From here, she burrowed to create a hole about a yard deep in order to lay her eggs. When the last egg was laid and the last of the sand had been shoveled over them, she abandoned her nest and journeyed back to sea.

    This was the only sea turtle nest discovered at PMRF this year, continuing the trend of one turtle nest per year since 2020. Historically, nests have been found along PMRF’s entire coastline, so it is very important to be aware of what these nests look like and to keep an eye out for them.

    “Anyone on the beach could find one during the season, so I wish more people knew how to identify them,” said Stephen Rossiter, PMRF’s field biology coordinator with Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit. “If you’re out on the beach during the summertime, you may find one. It usually consists of a pit and a mound next to each other and potentially tracks leading from the water to the nest and back. They’ll lay their nests above the tide line around where vegetation begins to grow.”

    PMRF’s environmental team was joined by biologists with the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) as well as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to excavate the nest.

    “They are the experts,” Rossiter said. “They are the ones that keep track of turtle nests all across the island and, through their organizations, all across the state. I think we were lucky to have that level of expertise available and willing to come out and evaluate what we have here at PMRF.”

    The team hiked out to the site Nov. 10 where the nest had been surrounded with wooden stakes and flags to identify it. Normally, the nesting season is between the months of May through July and hatching season is between July and September, so this was a late nest. During the nesting season, the environmental team, along with volunteers, walked the entire coastline of PMRF twice a week in search of nests to ensure they were identified and properly marked to help keep them undisturbed.

    “It was good to see a lot of people interested in it this year,” said Rossiter. “A big part of my job is preventing and mitigating human and wildlife conflict. It’s a good case where the species can benefit from the resources at PMRF with a little protection.”

    Once the team arrived at the site, they took turns with shovels and dug into the small mound. At around three feet deep the crew started to shave around the edges of the pit’s wall until someone spotted it, a small white fragment. An eggshell! After a quick exclamation of excitement from the team, they began to remove the sand closer to the top of the mound until they hit the jackpot. Egg shells popped up like bubbles in the sand, and each one was removed from the nest and carefully counted. Fifty-seven hatched eggs were found in the nest.

    “We greatly appreciate our partnership with the PMRF biologists to help us conserve our endangered marine life,” said Mimi Orly, a Kaua`i marine mammal response field coordinator with DLNR. “Currently the greatest threat to sea turtles is human activity causing habitat loss to nests on beaches due to development and human activities.”

    There are many dangers influencing the decline of sea turtles today, most of which are human impacted. Vehicles driving on the beach can crush eggs in nests. Fishing lines and nets left out on the reef can entangle and drown sea turtles. Boats traveling at high speeds near shore waters can break a turtle’s shell by the bow or propeller. Even artificial light can disorient hatchlings when they emerge from their nests.

    “The PMRF biologists do an excellent job monitoring the endangered marine wildlife at PMRF,” Orly said. “They work closely with us, NOAA Fisheries and Hawaii DLNR Protected Species Program to report all wildlife and follow all protocols we provide for wildlife conservation.”

    For more information about PMRF’s environmental program, please call the Natural Resources Hotline at (808) 208-4416, or visit



    Date Taken: 12.15.2022
    Date Posted: 12.15.2022 18:01
    Story ID: 435306
    Location: KEKAHA, HI, US 

    Web Views: 52
    Downloads: 0