Turtles or Tourists?

When faced head on, Hawaiian Sea Turtles look permanently depressed and irritable, even a little scary. In truth, they tend to be mild-mannered creatures who mind their own business and avoid bothering others. They do their best to accomplish what little they see as necessary in life, generally content to accept their lot in the grand scheme of things. Still, these turtles have every right to look upset. If I were one of their unique species, I would look pissed off, too, and with good reason.

Seven of the Hawaiian Sea Turtle species are listed as endangered or threatened by the federal Endangered Species Act. This means that it is illegal to harass or harm them, prohibit them from movement, or engage them in any way. It is also against Hawaiian state law to hunt or kill Hawaiian Sea Turtles, just as it is illegal to force them to remain in any sort of captivity. A few exceptions are made for permit holders, but permits are released only in special cases strictly addressing educational or research purposes.

Nevertheless, while Hawaiian Sea Turtles are said to be protected by state law, their environment and natural habitat is not. Turtle Bay Resorts, or TBR, is well aware of this fact. Owned by Hilton Hotels, which is, in turn, directly controlled by the Blackstone Group, TBR has proposed construction plans for nearly three thousand new rooms, villas and facilities on O’ahu’s North Shore. Building is to start in early 2014. These plans will demolish one of the last remaining nesting beaches left for Hawaiian Sea Turtles. This is just the beginning of a long list of damages and destruction that will occur to the land, flora and fauna, and marine life, all of which make up the true essence of not only the North Shore, but of Hawai’i as a whole.

If I were a Hawaiian Sea Turtle, I would be just a bit perturbed by all of this nonsense.  How many hotels does one strand of islands need, anyway? And why must these strings of hotels insist upon claiming land that already belongs to others? Imagine spending every last ounce of your energy and stamina to travel close to a thousand miles across hostile, uncompromising seas, only to arrive at your destination and find that it has been overrun by strange creatures – creatures seemingly absorbed in their own temporary delight and gratification. Imagine that you come to find that the focal point of your existence, the fundamental reason behind your fight for survival, is threatened now because of these vexatious bipeds. What would you do?

As humans, if we were to find ourselves in an identical situation, we would fight. We would rally, whether together as a group or separately as individuals, and we would stake claims. We would strengthen our defenses and plan our counter-attack. We would breathe fire. We would resist such an indignation with all of our might.

But what if you were unable to do so? What if you simply did not stand a chance against the opposition, and fighting was not an option? How would you feel shouldering the knowledge that your home, your breeding grounds, and your last chance at survival as a species were all under attack . . . and you could not compete against such a selfishly aggressive and overwhelming force? Well, Hawaiian Sea Turtles do not have to imagine such things. This is their unfortunate reality.

On the island of O’ahu, Turtle Bay Resorts owns more than 240,000 acres of land along and around the North Shore. Much of this coastal area is already devoted to expansive resort-style hotel accommodations and amenities. A solid five mile stretch of beachfront contains hundreds of private bungalows and cottages owned by TBR. Kayak, kite boarding, and surfing supply shops, training stations, equipment rentals, and hundreds of other types of businesses cater to tourism. But the income from such over-priced and over-rated establishments is not enough for Blackstone, even when added to their multi-billion dollar a year profits acquired from their other business handlings.

The Blackstone Group has its paws in the pockets of companies across the nation. One cannot easily summarize its business dealings in short order. Blackstone is a private equity company, investing firm, research developer, and heavy presence on Wall Street. The list goes on and on. Suffice it to say, Blackstone will not need to depend on its 2014 construction plans on O’ahu’s North Shore to keep it afloat in the financial world.

But the Hawaiian Sea Turtles, as well as dozens of other species of plant, animal, bird and marine life in that area, are indeed depending on that land and water. Each and every one of these individual and rare species relies on that particular area and habitat for survival. They will perish throughout the years of construction and years of tourism which will follow.

Sure, Turtle Bay Resorts and Blackstone will create a few thousand jobs for construction workers during the building process; and they will then offer thousands of employment opportunities for bellhops, maids, chefs, tour guides, and managers with excessively complex titles such as “Executive Director of Communications Administration” and “Senior Supervisor of Decision-Making.” But these jobs already exist in abundance across the islands of Hawai’i. They are available in many varieties and forms, and they will continue to be so. What is improbable, however, is the survival of anything else in those particular provinces.

The human race will always find a way to survive and to flourish. It will even find ways to travel and vacation in exotic locations such as O’ahu, Hawaii. Of course, Hawaiian Sea Turtles do not have hotels, resorts, or beaches to keep them distracted and sheltered. They have no other breeding grounds. These turtles return to the very same beach to reproduce that they themselves were born on, and it takes between two and five decades of life and maturity for them to even get to that point.

Only one in over ten thousand hatchlings survive long enough to even begin the 800 mile  journey back to their original nesting grounds, and there is no certainty that they will then find a mate. If, by chance, fertilized eggs are produced, these eggs require a minimum two-month incubation period under about a meter’s worth of sun-warmed beach sand – sand that must be between thirty-five and forty-five meters away from the sea.

Once the eggs begin to hatch, the tiny turtles within spend two to three days climbing vertically through the sand to reach the surface, and then it is a mad dash to the sea. Only a small percentage of hatchlings actually make it to the water due to the dozens of different species of birds and crabs that await the hatchlings’ appearance.

Survival after reaching the sea is not easy, either. The baby sea turtles, with flipper-like arms the size of butterfly wings, will then swim an average of sixty hours straight, without rest and without feeding, in order to reach their first destination of many. A sea turtle’s existence revolves around travel – travel that takes them back and forth between feeding grounds and breeding grounds.

People’s obsession with their own personal and individual enjoyment is destroying any chance of a future for these precious turtles, and if Turtle Bay Resorts is allowed to carry out their most recent construction plans in O’ahu, the damage will become permanent.  With thousands of new beachfront hotel rooms, suites, villas, and bungalows to be built upon their breeding grounds, as well as the tens of thousands of people trampling up and down these beaches at all times of the year, how are the Hawaiian Sea Turtles to survive? Simply put, they won’t.