Sammy is a Green Sea Turtle named by the “Teens 4 Oceans” student organization from Monarch High School. The students selected the name to honor the eldest sister of one of the club members, who died early in 2016 from a long struggle with heart problems. We hope that she will be forever remembered through this thoughtful memorial.

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; however, Pacific Whale Foundation researchers spotted Sammy on multiple occasions at a spot off the coast of Maui referred to as Turtle Town. Sammy was seen in the 2011 Sea Turtle Research Project on April 25, April 29, May 10, May 12, June 2, July 12, and July 15.

After looking at your certificate and image of Sammy you may be wondering how Green Sea Turtles got their name. The answer is that their name actually comes from the color of their fat, which is tinted green due to the huge amounts of algae that the turtles eat.

Like all Green Sea Turtles, Sammy has large flippers for swimming 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 for short distances, both of which are important to survival. In fact, Green 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 and 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 Green Sea Turtles settle into coastal waters of the islands, in places such as Turtle Town.

Our research team is able to identify individual Green Sea 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. 

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 who so generously support efforts to protect Hawaii’s green sea turtles and their ocean home.