The Story of Ronald

Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle

We’re pleased to announce that you are officially the adopted parent of a Hawaiian green sea turtle named Ronald.

Ronald was named by Cathryn Murray as a gift for Ronald Brimacombe, a very special person in her life. Ronald is a frequent visitor to South Maui, and loves to visit reefs where Hawaiian green sea turtles are often seen, swimming, resting on coral or in caves, and nibbling on algae.

The story of Hawaii’s green sea turtles is a story of hope. At one time, human hunting of Hawaii’s green turtles had reduced the turtles’ population to dangerously low levels. Thanks to protections provided by the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the establishment of a National Marine Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, Hawaii’s population of green sea turtles is believed to be growing at an estimated rate of 5.7%. We are so fortunate to be able to watch these turtles along Maui’s shorelines.

Our staff sighted Ronald the sea turtle off the coast of South Maui in a place that many people call “Turtle Town” or “Turtle Arches” It’s an area offshore from Makena where hot lava from the volcano Haleakala poured into the sea many years ago, creating immense clouds of steam as it cooled and hardened into black rock formations, including undersea rock arches. Today, you can see these black lava rock arches as you swim or dive undersea. Over time, coral reefs have grown up on and around this rock, creating a habitat for fish, invertebrates and other marine life, including green sea turtles. Their abundance gave this area its popular name.

Pacific Whale Foundation’s staff sighted Ronald at Turtle Arches on April 18, 2011. At the time, Ronald seen near the coral substrate about 15 feet deep.

Sea turtles are actually ancient reptiles whose ancestors were on earth at the time of the dinosaurs. The scientific name for green turtles is Chelonia mydas. These marine reptiles are found in all of the world’s tropical oceans. However, the population that lives in Hawaii is genetically unique; it is not known to mingle with other green turtle populations in other parts of the world.

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. Unlike land turtles, sea turtles cannot pull their head or flippers into their shell.

During adulthood, green turtles are considered herbivores, surviving primarily on algae and other marine plants. This plant-based diet gives green turtles their characteristic green-tinted flesh.

Green sea turtles grow extremely slowly and take about ten to fifteen years to reach sexual maturity. At that point, they are about the size of a trashcan lid. It is only after sexual maturity that females can be identified by their relatively short and stubby tails. Male turtles have much larger tails. Our staff was unable to determine your turtle’s gender during our sighting.

Like all green sea turtles, Ronald 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. The odds of survival are believed to be about 1 in 100 for these tiny hatchlings as they scurry into the ocean, to drift into deeper waters, where they subsist on fish eggs and small crustaceans. It’s a victory to see them arrive as juveniles and subadults to the coastal waters of the Hawaiian Islands, to settle into life in places such as “Turtle Town.”

Our 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.

As we mentioned earlier, 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. We also thank you for supporting Pacific Whale Foundation’s work to protect Ronald and all Hawaiian green sea turtles.