Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund Supports UH Manoa Turtle Conservation Research

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HONOLULU — Thanks to a $25,000 award from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa researchers in the Botany Department and scientists with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center will advance our understanding of how changed land-use has impacted endangered green sea turtles.

The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund has granted nearly $1.5 million to its 2010 recipients for conservation efforts around the world. These awards enable nonprofit organizations to provide support for more than 45 species across the globe; from protecting the critically endangered Sumatran rhino in Indonesia, to tracking northern jaguars in the foothills of Mexico, to the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s Botany team who are studying threats to the endangered green sea turtle.


“I am honored to present this award to the University of Hawai‘i Foundation on behalf of the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund,” said Djuan Rivers, vice president, Disney Vacation Club and Resort, Hawai‘i. “As part of Disney’s longstanding commitment to the environment, we are proud to support organizations that are truly making a difference around the world to aid in the protection of wildlife and the natural environments they depend on to flourish.”

Since the 1950s, Hawai‘i’s oceans have seen native sea grasses and algae diminished by nonnative and invasive macroalgae. Hawai‘i’s only marine mega-herbivore, green turtles have adapted to these changes and now consume significant amounts of non-native and invasive algae.

New NOAA research shows that a tumor-forming disease in these turtles is clustered in locations where human impacts are heavy and macroalgae blooms have been widespread. The Disney–funded research will explore how macroalgae store nutrients in compounds that are known to regulate immune activity and promote tumor formation among turtles. Results from this research will provide important information for conservation managers and policy-makers to work effectively with local communities and governments to protect ocean ecosystems.

“Our education program will track stranded turtles through the rehabilitation process and release via a social networking application called “Honulea” a Hawaiian phrase meaning ‘happy turtle,’” said Dr. Celia M. Smith, Professor of Botany at University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.

“Conservation efforts will be strengthened in this new partnership between University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa and NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center. Our project will provide a strong base of science to inform wise stewardship of this threatened species.”

Dr. Kyle Van Houtan, Leader of the NOAA’s Marine Turtle Assessment Program and partner in the project, added, “After several decades, scientists still do not understand what causes this crippling disease. This exciting research will provide new information that gets at the very core of how pollution influences turtles and this tumor disease. It holds great promise not just for turtles, but for similar diseases in a variety of reef-dwelling animals.”

Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund Part of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Worldwide, the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (DWCF) manages an
annual cash awards program focused on the study and protection of the world’s wildlife and ecosystems, involving communities and addressing human needs. The DWCF has taken Walt Disney’s legacy across the globe with more than $15 million in grants to conservation programs in 110 countries. The DWCF is funded by Disney and contributions from Disney Guests. www.disney.com/conservation

The University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa serves approximately 20,000 students pursuing more than 225 different degrees. Coming from every Hawaiian island, every state in the nation, and more than 100 countries, UH Mānoa students matriculate in an enriching environment for the global exchange of ideas. For more information, visit https://manoa.hawaii.edu.
The University of Hawai‘i Foundation, a nonprofit organization, raises private funds to support the University of Hawai‘i System. Our mission is to unite our donors’ passions with the University of Hawai‘i’s aspirations to benefit the people of Hawai‘i and beyond. We do this by raising private philanthropic support, managing private investments and nurturing donor and alumni relationships. www.uhfoundation.org