BY Jack Wiers – SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, HI – Monday’s scheduled physical training session was already memorable for members of the 643rd Company, 84th Engineering Battalion, 130th Engineer Brigade.
For exercise, they were kayaking on the North Shore, from Haleiwa along Anahulu River.
The morning then became something more significant when Spc. Henry Caldera of 643rd Co. helped rescue a drowning Green Sea turtle.
“We were instructed to notice the floaters (crab line net buoys) by our instructor (Wendy Nakama),” said Caldera.
About 7:30 a.m., a crab-trap floater was bobbing aggressively and caught their attention. A young Green Sea turtle was hopelessly tangled in the net underwater. When Caldera and Nakama, an Outdoor Recreation instructor for Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, lifted the approximately 35-pound turtle onto the kayak, they quickly noticed the crab net was strangling the struggling and stressed creature.
“He (the turtle) took three nice gasps of air when we cut the netting away from his neck,” Caldera said. “He calmed down quickly.”
Nakai, an FMWR safety instructor, then immediately initiated important next-steps. Coordinators of the Outdoor Recreation program contacted the Sea Turtle “stranding” hotline, run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA support teams immediately set up a rendezvous point in Mililani to take responsibility for the turtle, an endangered species, but also a species that has been repopulating impressively in recent years in Hawaii.
“We like to point out the sea turtles as they go out to sea during the early morning hours,” said Nakai, who has worked for Outdoor Recreation for five years. “In a fifteen minute span, one time, I counted 35 turtles going out to sea — heading out.”
By 9:30 a.m. Wendy Marks, a NOAA marine turtle stranding associate, took command of the young turtle, whom officials estimated was 10 to 15 years old.
“This is fantastic,” said Marks, who quickly assumed responsibility, adding that many calls NOAA receives are for sea turtles that have already died or in dire condition.
The quick response, in this case, is aiding a speedy recovery, NOAA officials indicated. After further removal of crab line netting, and treatment, the young turtle was released Tuesday.
“It was being strangled,” Caldera said. “We thought it was going to die.”
NOAA officials say they encourage contacting their Oahu strandings hotline, when members of the general public recognize similar cases.
Jack Wiers is with the U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii Public Affairs.