Good News in Maui for Turtles and Struggling Bird

WAILUKU, Hawaii (AP) — Fewer sea turtles were found stranded on Maui last year than in 2018, although officials say most cases continue to be caused by fishing gear.

There were 141 documented cases of green sea turtles stranded on Maui last year, down from 174 in 2018, The Maui News reported Monday.

Among the stranded turtles reported in 2019, 117 were located alive.

Sea turtle seen while scuba diving. (Bill Girdner / CNS)

Fishing gear caused 102 strandings and 13 were stranded due to unknown causes. The remaining 26 were caused by boat strikes, buoyancy disorders, injured flippers, shark bites, diseases, or turtles becoming stuck in rocks or sand, officials said.

Also Monday, the Hawaii Star-Advertiser reported that a project aimed at preventing the extinction of the endangered kiwikiu, a bird species only found on Maui, could soon lead to the creation of a captive breeding program on the U.S. mainland.

Also known as the Maui parrotbill, the population of yellow and olive-green forest birds has dwindled to fewer than 300.

A nonprofit bird facility on the mainland has expressed interest in a kiwikiu captive-breeding program, officials said.

The Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project halted a program to establish a population on the windward slopes of Maui’s Haleakala volcano after mosquito-borne avian malaria killed 10 of 13 birds set to be released in October, including one that died before it was set free. The final three are missing and presumed dead.

Recovery project officials hope the program on the mainland will buy time for the Maui parrotbill. Scientists said they need to find new ways to deal with the growing number of mosquitoes moving higher in forest elevation as Hawaii’s climate grows warmer.

“We have only a small window to do anything,” Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project Coordinator Hanna Mounce said.

The kiwikiu has suffered over the last century from habitat loss, invasive species, disease. and predators. Once found throughout low and highland forests of Maui and Molokai, the species has been relegated to the higher elevations of windward Haleakala, officials said.

The bird’s range continues to shrink as climate change accelerates and mosquitoes carrying avian malaria move higher up the mountain, officials said.

Following the bird deaths last year, the project officials conducted a mosquito abundance survey of the release area and found a seven-fold increase since the previous survey.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Serv­ice, one of the project partners, did not immediately respond to a request for information.

The turtle strandings are thought to stem in part from more turtles getting their heads and flippers stuck in illegal nets with clear lines.

The Maui Ocean Center Marine Institute said fishermen are encouraged to help turtles by removing hooks and lines.

“We hope to raise awareness, especially for fishermen. … most of our strandings are caused by fishing interactions,” said Jennifer Martin, conservation programs coordinator for the institute.

The institute is the nonprofit arm of the Maui Ocean Center aquarium that coordinates responses to sick, injured, distressed, or expired sea turtles on Maui.

The marine institute operates a recycling program that allows unwanted fishing lines to be placed in designated bins installed at 26 locations along Maui’s shoreline and at harbors and boat ramps.

Determining the exact number of turtle strandings is difficult because the figures rely on reporting, Marin said.

“It all depends what people see out there,” Martin said.

%d bloggers like this: