KOHALA COAST — Hundreds of hotel guests, visitors and residents flocked to Mauna Lani Bay Hotel &Bungalows’ beach Wednesday morning to stake out ideal spots to best view the 29th annual July 4th Turtle Independence Day Celebration.
Some gathered first around the hotel’s saltwater Honu Pond to learn more about Hawaiian green sea turtles that reside there, also called honu, provided by Oahu’s Sea Life Park.
Pii Laeha, the hotel’s local fish pond manager, explained, “We got them when they were 3 to 5 months old and have cared for the turtles for the past two years, making sure they’re healthy and ready to go. We had our veterinarians check them out yesterday and did our final weights and measures. The green turtles are making a great comeback here in Hawaii, so our main purpose here is for education and awareness.”
Once collected from the pond, four turtles were brought to the Pacific Ocean in a procession led by Mauna Lani’s Cultural Advisor Danny Akaka Jr., his wife, Anna, their son, Laakea, Kendall Kang, Halau Malanai and guests. The rest of the crowd filled every inch on both sides of the beach.
A welcome ceremony included a hula performance by Halau Malanai, followed by the individual releases of each of the four honu which swam freely out to sea.
Former Senator Daniel Akaka was in office when the event began in 1989, and showed his support for marine life by attending the event annually until his death in April.
“My dad is here in spirit, supporting the event,” Akaka Jr. said. Senator Akaka’s wife, Millie, attended Wednesday’s event in his honor.
“The hotel has released 225 honu over the past 29 years when the program started in 1989,” Mauna Lani Resort’s Managing Director Rodney Ito shared with the group.