August 17th, 2008
My husband watches 5690 as she nests in the shadows
Every summer in an even numbered year my husband and I have had a taste of what it is to be homeless. Last Tuesday we got our first taste of what it’s like to be homeless, to be approached by three police officers at 3:15 AM, and to know that their two police cars just rolled in exclusively for you.
Yes, every summer in an even numbered year, we get a teeny taste of having No Pot-to-Pee-In. 2008 was the first summer, however, in which I experienced “homelessness” as The Mississauga Muse. (The last year we spent all night in a park was 2006, and I hadn’t yet begun my research into municipal government and especially its relationship with those “at-risk” –those citizens who need government most.)
I’m by far a different person than I was two years ago — I now see POWER through a different lens.
MISISSAUGAWATCH BECOMES TURTLEWATCH
The Mississauga Muse watches the sand-flinging stage through binoculars
Just like in 2002, 2004, and 2006, a Hawaiian green turtle named 5690 (for the metal tag she once bore) nests at Kamehameha Iki Park in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii. My husband and I “babysit” her — for as long as it takes. Some nestings, she returns to the ocean well into sunrise. Sometimes we stay all night and must return the next because 5690 “false crawled” — meaning she searched, dug, searched some more, didn’t like conditions and finally, deep into the night, returned to the ocean without laying her eggs.
So we’ve spent many a night on the beach with West Maui’s homeless. This summer, we’d been surprised at how few people actually used Kamehameha Iki Parkto crash the night away. Still, it’s a busy place at night and that’s why 5690 needs babysitting. Not that we fear someone would harm her. Rather, when a sea turtle first crawls up the beach and especially when she first starts to dig her nest, she’s easily disturbed.
We had reports from a Hawaiian guy at the canoe hale that 5690 had attracted “50 people” earlier in the summer and been forced back into the water. Last Tuesday was the third time we’d played “bodyguard” for a momma honu. It was the first time though that she attracted enough people that we had to do some “crowd control”.
Once people realize that they’re not going to get their close looks or their photographs (no flash allowed), and the best they can get are distant glimpses of a rounded shell and flung sand, most leave. That’s just how it is. People don’t seem to have much attention span.
THE BEACH PEOPLE
On Tuesday night at around 9:30, when 5690 first emerged from the ocean, she inched her way up the beach. The decent-sized moon made watching her through binoculars easier. As she got further up to the highwater line, I noticed a man and a woman sitting in the sand by the seawall under cover of darkness. 5690 was certain to crawl right past them. They watched motionless and I watched them watching her.
All went well until the turtle turned towards them. That’s when I realized they weren’t just a Hawaiian couple enjoying a Lahaina night. The woman picked up a blanket, shook it, while the man woke up two kids. My binoculars revealed a Hawaiian family suddenly forced to sleep further down the beach. I felt badly.
The respect they showed the turtle was impressive. Fact is, in our experience the beach people — the ones there in the middle of the night — are always respectful of 5690 and even protective. It’s the visitors, the people who wander over when the luau at the hotel next door is finished, the tourists out for an evening stroll on the beach, those are the ones most likely to approach and disturb 5690.
On this night, for a long time the turtle fussed about, trying to find just the right spot. By the time she finally settled in to fling blasts of sand, she’d attracted just such a crowd. While my husband managed to convince them that the turtle needed a respectful distance, they still caused a constant play of moving shadows over her because of the park lights. We worried that this might disturb her, but she kept digging around until long after the crowd dispersed.
She didn’t find things to her liking, however. She went back to the water at eleven. We knew we were in for an all-nighter.
We feared that she wouldn’t come back until the next night, but just before midnight, 5690 made her second emergence. She headed straight for where she’d made four of her other nests, and quickly found a promising patch of sand. In fact, it was almost exactly where she’d laid eggs for nest #2, which fortunately had already hatched.
Shielding his eyes from the strong park lighting, Peter checks for progress.
No crowd this time but we needed to keep an eye on her anyway. Hawaiian turtle nesting goes through stages: enthusiastic digging (clearing for the nest), small tufts of sand flung about (digging her egg chamber), a point where she’s almost vertical (rear feet carving out the very bottom of her nest) and then quiet (lays eggs).
We always watch for the egg drop and then use a stick to mark it for the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) people who’ll excavate the nest once the main group of hatchlings have done their thing down the beach, roughly 55-60 days after mom first planted them in the sand.
Ursula (The Mississauga Muse) places a stick near 5690’s egg chamber
Well, she laid her eggs at 1:26 am, finished at 1:43, and then the longest part of the nesting process began — the concealing-her-nest stage. That usually takes her about two hours. We have to stay no matter what to make sure she returns to the ocean safely. (Last nesting two weeks earlier, after she finished her reproductive duties, the turtle had no moon shining on the ocean to cue her. The bright yellow lights of the park became her “ocean” and she turned the wrong way heading towards land — for the parking lot and the road! That’s why we stay for as long as she needs us.)
It’s those wee hours at Kamehameha Iki Parkwhen she’s covering up that affords us time to take turns lying down, looking up at the stars or just snoozing. It’s also during those wee hours at Kamehameha Iki Park when people happen.
Most don’t notice the turtle, they just see us and assume we’re homeless crashing for the night. It’s those wee hours at Kamehameha Iki Park when young couples do their young couple thing. It’s those wee hours at Kamehameha Iki Park when the drunken and the stoned find a respectful distance thinking that we too are drunk, stoned, and/or homeless.
Peter watches as The Mississauga Muse takes a break. (Yes, that’s a City of Mississauga flag…)
At one point we caught the whiff of some major pakalolo. Through the shadows we could barely make out a local stroll into the park drawing on a joint the size of a cigar! Quel Cheech and Chong! A half hour later, around 3 am, we saw him swimming (head only out of the water) along the entire beach. We both bet had he stood up there’d have been two moons over Lahaina!
Ah, the Kamehameha Iki Park night crowd. A half dozen teens by the seawall. A couple somewhere in the ocean swimming. Now this head making its way along the shoreline. Who knows who else was in shadow. And through it all *THWACK THWACK* — the sound of a mother turtle covering her nest.
The Mississauga Muse checks in on 5690 (foreground)
THE MISSISSAUGA MUSE — BAMBI CAUGHT IN HEADLIGHTS
The Maui County street cleaner truck had been by twice already. Then we heard a car roll in — Maui Police, followed by another. Two officers, then a third, got out and approached. I had zero doubt they showed up because of us. The street cleaners would’ve seen us in the strong lights of the park.
I have to tell you I was not dressed my best — baggy camouflage pants (the better to keep sand away from your rude parts when you’re lying down peering at a sea turtle through binoculars) a tie-dye shirt, my Canada cap complete with peace sign button. Quel Throw-Back to The Sixties.
Fortunately even the oldest of the three officers looked like he’d been just a toddler back then. I looked around to see how the others were handling this turn of events. The teens, the toker and the quiet drunks had evaporated leaving just us and three Maui police officers.
Cordial greeting, “How you doin’ folks?” a quick glance at our sandy blanket. Clearly we were spending the night in the park.
And so we told them we were “babysitting” a nesting sea turtle. We pointed to 5690 and the three officers were charmed.
“WOW! I never saw a nesting turtle before!”
Flashlight turns on. EEK! ACCCKK! Then another. Only it’s not smart to say “EEK! ACCCKK! Turn off the lights!” to three police officers.
“Wait, officer, I have a flashlight with red filter. Try this.” I aim my light at 5690‘s shell and they approach for a closer look. She heaves an impressive cloud of sand to their delight. We tell the officers that she’s almost done covering up and she’s minutes away from returning to the ocean. We invite them to stay.
Peter and three Maui police officers watch 5690 nest at Kamehameha Iki Park
One officer asked my husband how many times we’d seen this turtle nest.
“Oh, about a dozen times now”…
“Then you can’t be as excited as I am,” said the officer. What can I say? Sea turtles just do that to people.
Just before leaving a second officer gravitates towards our gear bag and I figure he might ask what’s in it — maybe wondering if we had alcohol or pakalolo (no). He sees the tripod, “Foodland” grocery bag, and binoculars scattered about. He’s satisfied. They stay long enough to ask a few questions about baby sea turtles.
We invite them again to stay (imagine this sea turtle having a police “escort” into the ocean) but the officers say they have to make their rounds. Actually it’s a good thing they did leave — she took a tad longer than we expected. I do have to say that police do make a difference — for the rest of the time we and 5690 had the park entirely to ourselves…
5690 still covering her nest as an almost full moon sinks behind the Island of Lanai
5690 returned to the ocean at 4:02 am. We hammered in some stakes to mark her nest, wove caution tape around, marked the location of the egg chamber for the DLNR folks and got home by 5 — *sigh* home… a real bed.
That’s the difference — a few nights every even numbered year we’re “homeless” by choice.
Mahalo nui loa to The Kamehameha Iki ParkBeach People who watch over 5690 when we can’t.
The Mississauga Muse
MISSISSAUGAWATCH and TURTLE TRAX
For more about Hawaiian green turtles, please visit our website, TURTLE TRAX at: www.turtles.org