Hawksbill turtle


The Hawaiʻi Island Hawksbill Project (HIHP) strives to secure the future of hawksbill turtles through research, management, and conservation.

The Hawaiian Islands have the largest hawksbill turtle nesting population in the United States, and over 90% of this population’s documented nesting occurs on the Island of Hawaiʻi (some nesting also occurs on the islands of Maui and Molokaʻi). HIHP is a project with the Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit at the University of Hawaiʻi and is the primary organization responsible for monitoring and protecting hawksbill turtles and their nesting habitat on Hawaiʻi Island. HIHP began monitoring for hawksbill nesting activity at Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park in 1989 and tagging nesting females in 1991. Intensive monitoring efforts have expanded over the decades to include additional nesting beaches both inside and outside of the National Park. Today, HIHP staff work with many collaborators including the World Turtle Trust, National Oceanic Atmospheric Association (NOAA), Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy, Hawaiʻi Department of Forest and Wildlife, and private landowners to monitor and protect hawksbill turtle populations and their nesting habitat on the Island of Hawaiʻi.

Measuring turtle


Baseline data is recorded during the field season by project managers and volunteers. Data collected includes the identification and size of nesting females, as well as the location and number of eggs laid in a nest.

Pohue Hatchling Runway


Field data that is collected throughout the season is sent to multiple agencies, including the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association (NOAA) and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), where it is used to produce management plans for the species.


By promoting public stewardship of rare ecosystems, mainly through education and outreach, we can ensure that future generations are taught their importance.

Meet the Team

Kelleigh Downs

Sea Turtle Recovery Technician

Kelleigh has been working with the project since 2020 when she started as a wildlife survey assistant and has been the primary field lead since 2022. Before joining the project, she received her B.S. in biology from Stephen F. Austin State University and later spent 5 months in Hōlanikū (Kure Atoll) helping with habitat restoration. Her marine turtle experience started with the Kemp’s ridley at Padre Island National Seashore in Texas. In between field seasons, Kelleigh worked on and off as a vet technician at Lantana Animal Hospital for about 5 years. However, she enjoyed her time in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and working with turtles so much that she decided to pursue a position where she could experience both, which brought her to us!

Tara Lanzer

Wildlife Survey Assistant

Tara received her B.S. in marine biology from Bowling Green State University in 2020. She began working with sea turtles in 2018 while interning at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in North Carolina. She has since worked with nesting turtles in Florida with Sand to Sea, Inc. and Texas with Padre Island National Seashore before coming to Hawaiʻi Island to work with our program and the nesting hawksbills in the fall of 2023 as a Volunteer-in-Park. She was soon hired on as a wildlife survey assistant in January of 2024!