HONOLULU — Federal officials are apologizing to the public after three sea turtle carcasses were found uncovered in an Oahu landfill routinely used to dispose of the endangered sea creatures.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials said leaving dead sea turtles at the Waimanalo Gulch is a normal procedure for the agency. But they acknowledged the turtles should’ve been covered with dirt or cloth and said the extra measure wasn’t taken because of staffing issues.

“In this case, due to under-staffing, regrettably the turtles were not covered over with soil,” NOAA research biologist T. Todd Jones told Hawaii News Now (http://bit.ly/2d9B4CX). “The perception is that the animals were left and they weren’t cared for and that’s what we apologize for.”

Nuuanu resident Jason Oka had been throwing out trash when he noticed the dead animals on Monday and took a photo.

Debbie Herrera, who works with the organization Malama na Honu to protect endangered Hawaiian green sea turtles, said she was surprised that the agency disposes of sea turtles at the dump site.

“They’re really respected so this is surprising, very surprising. That is absolutely opposite of everything I have ever been told,” Herrera said, adding that the disposal was an honest mistake.

NOAA handles 150 to 200 dead sea turtles in Hawaii each year.

One of the turtles spotted by Oka at the landfill was killed after being struck by a boat. The other two were sick.

Jones said the federal agency is looking at different options for disposing of dead sea turtles and hopes to work with other agencies on a solution.

“We’re open to alternatives as to what could be future possibilities for dealing with the animals,” Jones said.

Information from: KGMB-TV, http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/