Locals say harassment of sea turtles at Laniakea Beach has gotten worse; officials urge public to respect wildlife

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — On Friday, KHON2 went to Laniakea Beach to ask visitors if they knew turtles were protected in Hawaii.

Every day, for the last decade, hundreds of people have crowded the small area to get a glimpse of turtles. Locals said the harassment has gotten worse over the years.

“You will see people down here riding turtles, petting turtles, kicking turtles, throwing rocks at turtles, doing horrific acts against sea turtles here,” explained Terry Lilley, marine biologist and North Shore resident.

“There is a line of people every day on the beach here, thousands of them, that do not allow the sea turtles to get out of the water and climb onto the sand where they need to rest,” he continued.

Several visitors said they knew they had to keep a distance from the turtles but didn’t know how many feet. Others didn’t even know they were threatened or protected.

All of the visitors KHON2 spoke to said they didn’t watch or notice a PSA video on the airplane when flying to the state.

None of them knew of the possible fines related to touching or harassing marine life and were shocked to hear it was a Class C Felony, with fines up to $50,000 and/or jail time.

One visitor said he would still touch a turtle even after hearing how much the fine was. When asked if he worried about getting into trouble he said, “Not if they didn’t know.”

In addition to sea turtles, federal and state officials have been responding to several recent social media videos of people touching endangered Hawaiian monk seals.

Representatives from NOAA Fisheries and the Hawaii Dept. of Land and Natural Resources provided a briefing on Friday about respecting marine wildlife. 

Watch the full briefing below.

Over the past two weeks, DLNR has received 31 tips regarding monk seal harassment mainly focused on two incidences: one involving a woman visiting Kauai who touched a monk seal and the other where a man attempts to pet a monk seal. DLNR also received 10 tips regarding sea turtle harassment and two tips regarding people pursuing spinner dolphins. Download the DLNRtip app here.

Visitors are urged to view marine wildlife from a safe distance:

  • 10 ft. for sea turtles
  • 50 ft. for Hawaiian monk seals
  • 50 yds. for dolphins and small whales
  • 100 yds. for humpback whales

This week, Gov. David Ige called the videos of visitors touching Hawaiian monk seals “absolutely unacceptable.”

The governor released the following statement.

“I’ve seen an increase in distressing videos recently of what appears to be visitors to our state touching and disturbing our endangered native Hawaiian monk seals. I want to be clear that this behavior is absolutely unacceptable. Visitors to our islands – you’re asked to respect our people, culture, and laws protecting endangered species that are found nowhere else in the world. For those who don’t, make no mistake, you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

— Gov. David Ige

DLNR said people can download the free DLNR app and report violations instantly and they depend on witnesses to report incidents with photos, videos, dates, times, and locations.

Anyone who sees illegal activity is asked to call the NOAA hotline at (888)-256-9840.

Correction: In an earlier version of this story, there was an image of a turtle release event that was used incorrectly in this web post. The error has been corrected.

Correction: An earlier version of this story listed an incorrect classification for the green sea turtle. The error has been corrected.

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