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We’ve heard it’s almost impossible to not spot sea turtles on Maui during vacation, which is excellent news for you! There’s even one place on the island that nearly guarantees a first-hand turtle encounter. The key is to know where to go and the laws to follow that keep the endangered species safe.
The honu, or green sea turtle, are deeply respect by people across Maui and symbolize good luck, endurance, and long life. It is important to respect the green sea turtles across the islands in the same way while visiting. Spotting sea turtles is a magical experience, so read on for all the best Maui turtle tips!
Five Turtle Species Across Maui
Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles
These Maui turtles are the most common across the island and also the largest hard-shelled sea turtles! They can grow up to around 4 feet long and 400 pounds. If you’re lucky, you may come across one onshore at sunset or poking their heads out of shallow coastal waters.
Hawksbill turtles are of the smaller sea turtles species and are known for their narrow pointed beaks. They can grow up to 3 feet and about 150 pounds. You can find these turtles near coral while eating prey to keeps the reefs healthy. Unfortunately, Hawksbill turtles are illegally sold on the market because of their shell pattern known as “tortoiseshell.”
Olive Ridley Turtles
The Olive Ridley turtle is named for the olive hue of its shell. The chances of seeing one in Maui are rare. Olive Ridley turtles are currently the most abundant of all sea turtles. However, they are still considered vulnerable due to the small number of places they nest. Any disturbance made to their nesting habitats could have significant repercussions on the Olive Ridley species.
Olive Ridley turtles are also one of the smallest sea turtle species, weighing in at only 100 pounds and about 2 feet in length. They are mostly carnivorous and eat jellyfish, shrimp, and other marine life. You may also see them snacking on algae and seaweed.
Leatherback turtles have unique leather-like shells. They are the largest sea turtles and can weigh in at 1500 pounds – that’s about the size of 10 men! Leatherbacks are also one of the oldest creatures to live on earth, so the conservation work done to protect these creatures is essential. They eat a large amount of jellyfish, which keeps the population in check. However, leatherbacks often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, which can kill them, so do your part in keeping the island safe for the animals!
Known for their large heads and strong jaws, Loggerhead turtles are mostly carnivorous and eat shellfish from the bottom of the ocean. They carry many colonies of small plants and animals on their shells across the sea, making them a valued part of the ecosystem.
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Maui Turtle Safety and Laws
Due to the decline of sea turtles, many organizations work to secure the environments of turtles so they can continue to thrive and benefit the ocean. It is unlawful to disturb, touch, feed, or harass sea turtles in Hawaii as they are federally protected. There are more specific rules that I would recommend reviewing here. Please enjoy the majestic honus from a distance!
Best Beaches for Snorkeling with Sea Turtles on Maui
Maui snorkeling is known as some of the best across the Hawaiian Islands. There are a variety of beach parks with easy ocean access, and many are perfect for beginners! Please be aware of ocean conditions and beach signage when going snorkeling, and know that the conditions can change without notice.
On the north side of Lahaina, you will come across Kapalua Bay. We decided to go solely based on a stunning photograph we saw from a local artist. The vegetation, stunning rock formations, and clear blue waters are something out of a dream.
The snorkeling is incredible here, and you can often see fish just inches from shore as they swim across reef formations. The best places to spot turtles are on the left and right sides near the rock formations. When the waters are calm, it’s a leisurely swim out to beautiful sea life. It is quite deep depending on where you swim though, so I’d recommend a snorkeling vest if you’d like to conserve energy.
We saw two turtles in Kapalua Bay diving to the ocean bottom to eat their lunch. Many people can be seen diving down to the ocean bottom in snorkel masks to get a closer view of the turtles. Parking is limited, so we recommend securing a spot before 9 AM. Otherwise, you may need to park nearby and walk.
When we were in Wailea and Lahaina, we asked several locals about their favorite snorkeling spots. Every single person we asked said Honolua Bay. Trust me, the walk from the car to the ocean is reason enough to visit!
This area had rocks onshore instead of sand, making it a bit tricky to access the water compared to other locations. There is a spot towards the left of the beach that opens up into sand as you enter the water, which makes it easier than slipping over rocks. I’d also recommend waiting to put on your gear until you access the water because you’ll be less likely to fall.
The locals told the truth when they said the snorkeling was incredible. We swam through many schools of fish and saw colorful and thriving reefs. The turtle we encountered here was resting in a cave, but other people saw many turtles swimming around the right side near the rock formations.
Baby Beach in Lahaina, also known as Pu’unoa Beach, is the perfect spot for beginner snorkelers. The beach is protected by a vast stretch of reef, which creates calm and shallow waters. I first decided to visit this spot after watching someone on YouTube snorkel with turtles in the clear waters.
You will find many families here with their children because of the ease of accessing the water. The water is crystal clear, and the reefs allow for an abundance of fish and marine life. My mom was even able to stand waist-deep at shore and experience many fish pass her!
Wailea Beach is right off of several luxury hotels in Wailea. However, there is a public parking lot nearby with beach access. Although turtles can be spotted in shallow waters just a few feet offshore, your best luck is snorkeling to the right or left near rock and coral formations. We saw several boats drop off snorkeling groups in this area.
Ahihi Kinau Nature Preserve
The Ahihi Kinau Nature Preserve is a great place to snorkel because fishing is prohibited, allowing the tropical fish to thrive. The best place to enter the cove is near the concrete pad going into the water. Unless you’re the first people to arrive, you will probably see people hanging out in that area. The Ahihi Kinau Nature Preserve is another location without much of a sandy beach, so be careful as you walk down the slippery rocks to access the water.
Maluaka Beach is another top snorkeling destination in Makena. The beach is known for soft white sand and excellent snorkeling. The beach is kid-friendly with showers and restroom facilities. Maluaka Beach is adjacent to a spot known as “Turtle Town” by people in the area. Many people snorkel out to experience Turtle Town, but there are boat tours that drop you off for those that are less advanced.
What to Pack for Snorkeling in Maui
We packed a beach bag and threw it in our Jeep each day, regardless of our planned activities. You never know when you may decide to switch things up and go snorkeling! There’s no shortage of beaches on Maui, and snorkeling them is one of our favorite activities. Here is what to pack for snorkeling each day: rash guards, reef-safe sunscreen, snorkel sets, high SPF lip balm, quick-dry water shoes, an underwater camera, and snorkeling vests for areas with deeper water.
Best Beaches to Encounter Sea Turtles on Land
There’s always a possibility you may watch a turtle come to land or stumble upon one on already the beach. At one of the condos we stayed at in Lahaina, we were lucky to encounter turtles every day on the beach. If you hang out near beaches with small caves along shallow reefs, there’s a higher chance you’ll see the turtles taking a break on the reef between trips to the surface.
One of the best-known places to encounter turtles resting is at Hookipa Beach Park in Paia. There is a reef along most of the shore that the turtles frequent. Some days you can see the honu poke their head out of the ocean for a break, but you may get lucky enough to have turtles come to shore and share a sunset with you!
Take a Tour to Turtle Town
There are several opportunities to spot turtles in Maui with guided tours. One of the most popular tours for people who want to encounter sea turtles is a trip to “Turtle Town.” There are several places I’ve heard across the island referred to as Turtle Town, but the rock formation off of Maluaka Beach seems to be the most well-known. You can choose a boat or kayak for some of the best chances of encountering the beautiful honu! Here are a few of the top tour options:
Want to Guarantee an Encounter with Sea Turtles in Maui?
Take a day trip to the Maui Ocean Center! They have an area called “Turtle Lagoon,” which is home to many Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles. The Maui Ocean Center’s website mentions that they have six sea turtles on display at all times. It’s the perfect activity for families when you feel like you’d like to relax, rather than adventure around the island.
Last time we traveled to Maui, we snorkeled at the beaches mentioned above and encountered six green sea turtles in shallow waters and three on land! Every time you have the honor of seeing turtles in Maui, it is truly spectacular.
Have you encountered a sea turtle in Maui before? Tell us all about your experience in the comments!