Torii turtles saved from typhoon
Japanese myth has it that a fisherman named Urashima Taro once saved a turtle from certain death and was rewarded by the emperor of the sea with a journey to a palace at the bottom of the ocean. Upon his return, Taro realized that 300 years had passed and he no longer recognized his home.
The Environmental Division of the Directorate of Public Works at U.S. Army Garrison - Okinawa recently saved 88 Loggerhead Turtle hatchlings from Typhoon Chan-Hom, which made landfall on Okinawa July 10. According to environmental specialists, the severe winds and rain would have certainly spelled the end for the tiny turtles, which were eventually released July 17 at Torii Beach where nesting occurs from April through August.
One by one, Environmental Specialist Tomoko Ikema plucked the sleepy-eyed hatchlings from a blue bin, setting them on a frenzied journey as they scuttled across the sand and out to sea. The reddish-brown Loggerheads, with their heart-shaped top shells, are listed as an endangered species under the protection of the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
Ikema, who takes daily strolls on Torii Beach searching for tracks and nests, is passionate about preserving the diversity of life on Torii Station and Okinawa for future generations.
“Aside from being legally required, we need to maintain a rich diversity and healthy environment for humans and next generations,” said Ikema. “If we maintain the biodiversity, humans and other species will better survive any environmental changes. Biodiversity has significant impacts on agriculture, as well as marine and fresh water food resources,” she said.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Loggerheads face danger both in the water and on the beach. The main cause of decline and primary threat to Loggerhead turtle populations is capture in fishing gear, like longlines and gillnets, but also in trawls and dredges.
Ikema recommends not fishing at night during nesting season, and picking up drifted plastic and trash on the beach as simple but effective measures to take in protecting the flora and fauna on and around Torii Station.
There are 144 floral species and 487 fauna species observed at Torii Station -- 48 of which are protected, according to Environmental Division Chief Brandy Hawley. The biodiversity found at Torii Station make the installation unique, she said.
“Karst [limestone] features near the shoreline contain the greatest density and diversity of vegetation, which in turn creates potential habitat for several species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians,” said Hawley. “Due to the diversified habitat features at Torii Beach, many indigenous flora and fauna can be observed, including several protected species.”
Unlike the Japanese myth of Urashima Taro, the garrison’s Environmental Division doesn’t want future generations to wake up to a unrecognizable environment.
“The [Directorate of Public Work] Environmental Conservation programs are fortunate to have great support from our leadership and we continue to strive to protect our natural resources,” said Hawley.