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  Yahoo News 5 Jul 06
7 green sea turtles gain independence
By Karin Stanton

KOHALA COAST, Hawaii - What's green, has 28 flippers and newfound freedom? The answer is seven young green sea turtles, or honu, launched into the wild Tuesday morning from a beach on the Big Island for what has been dubbed Turtle Independence Day.

An estimated crowd of 800 onlookers gathered along the coast fronting Mauna Lani Resort to watch as the turtles were escorted from the nearby saltwater ponds where they had been raised and ferried individually on white mesh stretcher toward the waves. Measuring up to nearly three feet in diameter, the turtles gave a couple of final fin flips or a quick look back at the shore before heading off on their new life adventures.

Since 1989, Oahu's Sea Life Park has been providing young turtles to be raised in the ponds and, once they reach the age of 2 or 3, to be set free on July 4. The event includes educational booths, games, food and a special appearance by a Teenage Ninja Turtle.

The Lague family from Minneapolis, Minn. enjoyed an early lunch after visiting several booths and stopping at the face-painting table.

"I've seen turtles before but not sea turtles. We don't have sea turtles," said Sydney, 9, as she sported a blue turtle painted on her cheek. "I learned how they swim with their fins up and down. It's kind of like they are flying."

Sydney and brother Jack, 6, said they were looking forward to snorkeling during their vacation and hoping to see turtles in the wild. "And maybe sharks," Jack said. "I like sharks."

Parents Julie and Jude said they appreciated the opportunity to show their children that caring for the environment and wildlife can have a positive impact.

"Conservation does work. To see turtles come back shows it does happen," Jude Lague said. "Just for the kids to see it means everything."

Dr. Renato Lenzi, general manager at Sea Life Park, said the annual event is an important step in raising awareness and educating people about the endangered green sea turtle.

"Remember, they are messengers," he told the crowd. "This delicate environment needs our help. Now, everyday is Fourth of July for these turtles."

Lenzi said he was pleased the day was geared toward children. "It's nice to see the kids get so excited to see the turtles," he said. "They are one of the most important reasons we do this."

A generation ago, green sea turtles were hunted for sport and restaurant dinner menus. But in 1978, the turtle was added to the federal endangered species list, making it a crime to kill or harass them.

While the number of green sea turtles is rebounding, Lenzi said the task in not complete. "They are on the verge of a recoup, but there's still a lot to learn and find out," Lenzi said.

"You can only protect them if you know them." Mauna Lani has nurtured more than 100 turtles before releasing them into the ocean.

Prior to July 4, the turtles undergo a veterinary check and are fitted with a microchip and external identification tag. The resort also hosts hundreds of school children each year through its cultural and marine programs.

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