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Day of liberation for 7 rare turtles

July 05, 2007|From the Associated Press

KOHALA COAST, HAWAII — Seven young green sea turtles got their first taste of freedom Wednesday.

The turtles, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act and are considered threatened, were launched into the ocean at Mauna Lani Resort along the Kohala Coast.

Hundreds of resort guests and community residents packed the shoreline to watch as the turtles, or honu in Hawaiian, flipped their way into the waters to begin new lives of freedom.

The 2-year-old turtles -- named Kulewa, Meheu, Muolani, Naauao, Palaole, Pookela and Pokii -- were carried in slings by young volunteers down to the water's edge where guests scooped them up and released them into the shallows.

The babies were born at Sea Life Park on Oahu and raised at the Mauna Lani Resort's saltwater ponds. They were set free after a final checkup and an identification microchip was implanted in each.

Since 1989, the Turtle Independence Day program, a partnership between the resort and the park, has released more than 100 juveniles into the wild.

Green sea turtles, once hunted for sport and for food, were added to the federal endangered species list in 1978.

"In the last 25 years the numbers have rebounded," said George H. Balazs, a marine turtle researcher with the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

"This a great example of the Endangered Species Act really working," Balazs said after helping launch one of the turtles.

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