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Why is Howzit dying?

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This story is about one turtle but it is too late to help him. The turtle's name is Howzit. He is a Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle. Howzit first settled down to live in Hawaii in 1992.

Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle
Howzit made a bad choice. He made Honokowai (Ho no KO why) on Maui, Hawaii, his home. This is a place where there are lots of water problems. Even worse, Howzit decided to live with a lot of turtles who have fibropapillomas.

This was bad because scientists think the disease is contagious (CON tay jus). Contagious means "spread by close contact." Unfortunately, turtles like to be with other turtles. When turtles get close together, they can catch contagious diseases from each other.

One place they get together is called a cleaning station. The turtles like to go to a cleaning station to get their shells cleaned. At a cleaning station, there are fish who like to clean turtle shells. Some of the fish like to clean the turtle all over.

Hawaiian Green Sea TurtleThis is a picture of Poino, one of Howzit's friends, being cleaned by fish. You can tell he really likes to be cleaned. He is sticking his head straight up to let the fish know he wants to be cleaned.

Hawaiian Green Sea TurtleThis is a video picture of Howzit in 1993. He was growing very well but 1993 was not a good time for him and his friends. In July there was a very heavy rain that turned Howzit's water red and dirty for many months. People had built ditches by Howzit's home. The ditches sent soil right into his ocean during the heavy rain.

Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle No one really knows all the bad things that get flushed into the ocean from the ditches. This is a picture of another friend of Howzit's after that heavy rain. All the turtles had red shells. That is because the soil was red. The soil settled on the backs of the turtles.

Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle Here is Howzit in 1994. His eyes looked strange. His neck had a small white spot on it. His shoulders had white spots. Sometimes when a turtle has these spots it means it is beginning to get the tumor disease. Some lucky turtles have white spots that go away and cause no harm at all.

Only when the white spots get bigger and lumpy can you be sure a turtle really has fibropapillomas. Fibropapillomas often grow in the eyes first. We were worried about Howzit in 1994--very worried.


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Hawaiian Green Sea TurtleIn 1995 we were very sad to see Howzit. The small happy turtle we knew in 1992 was now very sick. There was no doubt he had the disease. We were surprised at how fast the disease was hurting him. He had tumors on both eyes. (Remember his eyes looked funny in 1994. It must have been the very beginning of tumors.)

Hawaiian Green Sea TurtleHis neck had a larger white lump now. Some of the white spots on his shoulders were now bigger lumps too. He had many tumors growing. Worst of all, Howzit was very, very skinny. He was so skinny his bottom shell, the plastron (PLAS tron), was all shrunken in. It looked like he was starving.

He spent most of his time lying on the bottom sleeping. This is not normal for healthy happy turtles. Howzit is not healthy or happy. He is very sick. We don't think he will be alive when we visit the turtles again in 1996. We do not think Howzit has enough energy left to live until then.

Hawaiian Green Sea TurtleHere is a picture of Howzit and another young turtle who also came to live in the same area in 1992. The turtle's name is 4-Spot. We called her 4-Spot because her shell had four white spots on it. This picture shows how healthy 4-Spot was when we first saw her in 1992.

Yes, both Howzit and 4-Spot became really sick in just three years. That is why scientists are so worried about fibropapillomas. The disease can make turtles sick very fast.

This turtle has also decided to make Honokowai her home. People are working very hard to clean up Howzit's ocean. They are building basins to hold back storm water. They are trying hard to fix the problems with sewage. They know run-off should not get in the water.

We think it is too late to help Howzit. We hope we are wrong. We hope we will see Howzit next year and that he will be better. We just don't think this will happen. We think about Howzit a lot.

Hawaiian Green Sea TurtleMany, many people care about turtles. Turtle scientists are working very hard in Hawaii and Florida to find what causes the disease. There are others who are fighting to improve Howzit's ocean. We hope one of you reading this will decide to learn about turtles and the ocean.

You can become a turtle scientist just like the ones who work very hard to help the turtles. First you must work hard in school and learn all you can. Then you can become a marine zoologist (zoo ALL o JIST) or a veterinarian (VET rin ary an) and try to find a cure for the disease.

Sea turtles are splendid, beautiful creatures Sea turtles are splendid, beautiful creatures. They deserve their place on this planet just like humans do. That means they need people who will speak up for them. Turtles cannot speak for themselves so people have to do that for them. Turtles need all the help and all the friends they can get.

We hope that after reading this story, you will become a friend of turtles too.

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