Story and Photos By Chris Turner, Na Pali Riders Raft Tours
Honu, the traditional Hawaiian name for the green turtle (Chelonia mydas), is one of Hawaii’s most beloved creatures. These days, spotting a honu swimming in nearshore waters is a common sight, but this was not the case several decades ago when the species was hunted to the brink of extinction by the commercial fishing industry.
Around the globe, honu is prized for the delicate flavor of its greenish-colored meat, with many cultures serving up turtle soup as a popular menu item. Hawai’i was no exception, as it also boasted an appetite for the honu. This began in ancient Hawaiian times, when eating honu was saved only for the ali’i (kings) to consume on very special occasions. Over time, Hawai’i became a melting pot of many races, and honu was served at restaurants and lū’aus (feasts), contributing to a widespread consumer demand for turtle meat and eggs.
Human consumption of honu was a disaster for their population in Hawai’i, but things are looking much brighter these days, thanks to the enforcement of state and federal laws that make it illegal to harass, harm, or harvest honu.
Although the honu population has experienced a notable recovery in Hawai’i, threats still remain. There is a mysterious, fibropapilloma (tumor) disease affecting the viability of the population. Other threats are shark predation, loss of habitat, entanglement in commercial fishing gear, and harm from the accidental ingestion of marine debris. We humans are undoubtedly the largest threat to our precious honu friends.
The honu have been around since the age of the dinosaurs. They are the true ancients of Hawaii. They are to be guarded and respected, as their future is uncertain. So remember, when you spot our friend the honu swimming or basking on the beach, admire this gentle creature from afar, let the honu be free in its natural habitat.
For more information about Kauai, visit Na Pali Coast Magazine