Surfer's Antics Sparks Outrage After Riding Threatened Hawaiian Sea Turtle

December 1, 2011

A Hawaiian green sea turtle (chelonia mydas), was used like a surfboard by a man who was photographed straddling the endangered chelonian in Hawaii. The photograph, which first appeared on the Facebook page of news site HawaiiNewsNow, sparked outrage amongst native Hawaiians and residents of Hawaii, with some calling for the man, apparently pro surfer Jamie O'Brien, to be prosecuted to the full extent of federal and state laws for molesting the federally threatened sea turtle (honu in Hawaiian). The green sea turtle is revered in Hawaii and is  considered an ancestral spirit by native Hawaiians.

O'Brien later posted on his blog that he was trying to draw attention to the herpes-like virus Fibropapillomatosis, which has devastated sea turtle populations. But the public wasn't buying it. One Hawaiian posted a rant on YouTube, chastising O'Brien for molesting the turtle, saying that as a professional surfer, O'Brien should know better considering he has been sharing the ocean with the Hawaiian honu for many years.


Green sea turtle chelonia mydas

The green sea turtle (chelonia mydas), is considered an ancestral spirit by native Hawaiians. The Hawaiian honu is a threatened species in Hawaii and endangered elsewhere throughout the world


Pat Opay, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration's Endangered Species Branch chief, told Hawaiian news site KITV.com that the incident has been referred to NOAA's enforcement group. Feeding, petting, riding, or disturbing the animal in any way can result in fines of up to $13,200. While there is no specific distance people are supposed to stay from the Hawaiian green sea turtle, the state's Department of Land and Natural Resources website has the following guidelines posted:". . . getting close to these animals may constitute a federal or state violation if the animal is disturbed or if your action has the potential to disturb its natural behavioral patterns. NOAA and DLNR recommend, for your safety and the animals' protection, that everyone stay at least 150 feet from all marine mammals and sea turtles. If maintaining this distance isn't possible, keep safety in mind and move away from the animal as carefully as possible, avoiding sudden movements and other actions that might disturb the animal. For wildlife viewers, please enjoy from a distance - use binoculars and telephoto lenses to get the best views without disturbing the wildlife."

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