Picture of Lilo the sea turtle

Hawaiian legend tells of a green sea turtle named Kauila who had the power to change herself into a girl, so she could play among the children at Punalu’u Beach on the Big Island of Hawai’i and protect them from harm. Kauila’s mother is credited with digging a nest at Punalu’u Beach from which fresh water sprang forth for the children to drink.

With the legend of Kauila in mind, we are proud to introduce you to the Hawaiian green sea turtle named Lilo. There are many common threads in the story of Kauila and the naming of Lilo, including a young girl, a wish to protect, and fresh water!

Lilo was named by a California girl named Sami who has shown through her actions that she truly watches over and cares about the oceans and all marine wildlife.

As part of preparing for her Bat Mitzvah, a Jewish ceremony marking her coming of age as an adult, Sami took on a Tikkun Olam project to raise money for Pacific Whale  Foundation’s research, education and conservation efforts. Tikkun Olam is a Hebrew phrase meaning “repairing the world" (or "healing and restoring the world").

Sami decided to hold a carwash to reach her fundraising goals.

But then, she researched how much water is used for a typical home car wash and found that it ranges between 60 to 80 gallons of water for a 7 to 8 minute wash—not a good choice for drought-stricken California. And since she lives about a mile from the ocean, she recognized that all of the soap, dirt and grease runoff would go directly into the storm drain and out to sea.

That’s when Sami decided her carwash wouldn’t be an ordinary carwash. She chose to hold a waterless car wash.

Sami found a waterless car wash spray called Eco Touch ( She and her parents contacted the founder and Chief Marketing Officer, James Dudra and told him what they were planning. It turned out that he is a surfer and whale enthusiast and he offered to donate all of the product for Sami’s project.

Through her unique waterless car wash, Sami raised $500 for Pacific Whale Foundation. Through our Adopt a Turtle program, her $500 donation allowed her to name a sea turtle. After learning that “Lilo” means “generous one,” she chose Lilo as the name for the turtle. We’re sure you’ll agree it’s a very fitting name!

Lilo, the sea turtle, was first sighted by Pacific Whale Foundation’s staff on April 25, 2011, off the coast of South Maui, in an area off Makena that’s famous for its volcanic rock coastline and coral reefs, as well as the many turtles found there. For that reason, it’s been nicknamed “Turtle Town.”

Lilo was sighted resting, swimming and feeding among the corals in this area. Like other green sea turtles, Lilo likely spends her days foraging on algae, the primary diet of adult green sea turtles.

Our staff sighted Lilo again among the corals in this area on June 7, 2011 and later on July 19 and July 22, 2011.

The shell of a green sea turtle – also known as its carapace – is mostly black, marked with mottled wavy rays of yellow, green, brown and white which mimic the way sunlight plays through the water onto corals and other rough surfaces. Because of this masterful camouflage, it’s easy to overlook a green sea turtle among the corals. Our staff was fortunate to sight Lilo on these four occasions!

You may be wondering why green sea turtles don’t have green shells. Here’s the answer: they are named for their skin and fat which are tinted green by the algae and plants they consume.

Like all green sea turtles, Lilo has large flippers for paddling and a streamlined shell that slips easily through the water. Green sea turtles are able to swim long distances in the ocean, and to move relatively quickly, both of which are important to survival. In fact, sea turtles have been known to swim at speeds of up to 35 mph!

This swimming ability is important, because Hawaii’s green sea turtles routinely make long migrations of 500 or more miles to their place of birth, in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, a chain of tiny islands and atolls which stretch west of Kauai. Most of the turtles nest at East Island and its tiny neighboring islets, which are collectively known as French Frigate Shoals. About every two to three years, the sexually mature female turtle returns to her birthplace to nest on land at night. Nesting typically occurs from May through August. Males make the journey every year or two, mating with the females offshore.

Sea turtles hatch at night from eggs laid in sandy nests. They work together to dig their way out of the sand, then scurry toward the brighter horizon of the ocean, past predatory birds and crabs. Those that survive drift out to deeper waters, subsisting on fish eggs and small crustaceans. As juveniles and adults, Hawaiian sea turtles settle into coastal waters of the islands, in places such as “Turtle Town” off the coast of Maui.

Our research team is able to identify Hawaiian green turtles by photographing the left and right sides of their heads, and analyzing the photos. Sea turtle researchers have devised a clever system of assigning two codes to each of the “scutes” (or what some people might refer to as scales or plates) on either side of her head. The first code identifies the location of the scute on the head. The second code identifies the shape of the scute. The resulting series of numbers lets the researchers individually identify each sea turtle that they photograph.

The photo on your adoption certificate shows Lilo’s distinctive face and skutes. Our staff believes that Lilo is female, after seeing that this turtle had a short, stubby tail. Mature males have longer, thicker tails. Mature females are recognized by their shorter stubbier tails.

Hawaii’s green sea turtles are protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Under this law, it is illegal to harm, harass or kill green sea turtles. We are thankful for this protective law, and for all, including you and Sami, who so generously support efforts to protect Hawaii’s green sea turtles and their ocean home.

Sighting map Lilo