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Molokini Crater National Marine Preserve
National Marine Preserve
Located just a few miles off Maui's rugged Makena coast, lies the alluring, sunken volcanic crater of Molokini. Her crystal-clear tropical waters teem with an array of fish that are seemingly painted in every color of the rainbow and the island itself is home to two distinct species of seabirds.
Recent archeological evidence shows that the ancient Hawaiians actually ventured out to Molokini, hundreds of years ago, to fish. And it is also believed that they may have additionally harvested seabirds, eggs and feathers here too. But today, Molokini Crater is a carefully protected Marine Life Conservation District and the island has been declared a Hawaii State Seabird Sanctuary.
Because of Molokini's unique crescent shape, it provides a natural barrier against the waves and currents. This is why the water is typically clear, blue and calm inside the crater. It is a safe-haven for all kinds of smaller fish and is particularly suitable for beginner to intermediate snorkelers.
Ironically, during World War II, the United States Navy decided to use Molokini for target practice because of this unique shape as the profile also unfortunately resembled a battleship. Thankfully this only done temporarily during the war and the U.S. Navy stopped this practice. Fortunately, because of nature's amazing ability to recover, and with the help of careful protection, conservation methods and laws, Molokini is once again alive with marine-life and a pristine and beautiful underwater treasure!
And even before that, Molokini had an even more tumultuous past! Thousands of years ago, although calm and pristine today, Molokini was quite different. It began as a violent underwater, volcanic eruption! What you see today, is actually what remains of a giant cinder cone that rose above the surface and erupted approximately 230,000 years ago. Hundreds of ancient cinder cones can be found all around Maui, but Molokini is unique, in the fact that it is one of the few that rose from the deep ocean floor to reach above the water. Many of these cones never break the surface of the water and only erupt below the surface.
So, what causes these cones to occur? Well, when our islands were young, molten lava flowed beneath the surface of the ocean through porous tubes. These tubes would also trap water within their rocky structure. When the flowing lava heated this water to temperatures in excess of 100 degrees Celsius, the water turned to steam and caused the earth to bulge and form a cone-like shape. Some of these cones would actually explode. Rock and cinder would spew into the sky and part of the cone's walls would collapse. Along with water-erosion, from ocean waves, this is what created the familiar crescent shape we know today as Molokini Crater.
However, the Hawaiian people have a very different story of how the shape of Molokini was formed. Ancient legend tells of a tale that goes something along the lines of this story...
"Many sunsets ago, the powerful fire goddess Pele fell in love with a handsome Maui prince. Unfortunately, a lovely female mo'o, or gecko, also had eyes for the prince. Angered and jealous, the powerful goddess Pele took care of her competition by cutting this mo'o in two and turning her into stone. The head of Pele's rival is said to be a cinder cone near Makena Beach (known as Pu'u Ho'olai) and the gecko's tail forms what we know today as Molokini."
Whichever explanation you choose to embrace, Molokini remains at the top of the list of "must see" attractions when on Maui. The snorkeling is some of the best in all of Hawaii. But what makes this truly special is to be far off the coast of Maui, within the shelter and protection of Molokini's unique shape, seeing species of fish that normally you would never see when you snorkel along Maui's shoreline.
Molokini is now famous for snorkeling as well as diving. This protected crater is home to over 250 distinct marine species. The fish most commonly seen here are the Black Triggerfish, Yellow Tang, Moorish Idol, Parrotfish, Raccoon Butterfly Fish and Bluefin Trevally. Because of the constant exposure to humans, and the long history as a conservation area, the fish of Molokini are extremely comfortable with the presence of snorkelers and divers.
The back-side, or "the back-wall" as it is called, boasts some of the most advanced diving for scuba divers. It is considered, by some, to be one the 10 best dive spots in the world. Dive charter boats leave every morning from Maalaea and Lahaina to take lucky divers to this unique location.
The Maui Magic is proud to assist in conservation and protection of this special area and we strive to also help educate everyone we take snorkeling here. Molokini is certainly a special place and we maintain one of the best mooring positions within the crater (as dropping anchor is strictly prohibited to protect the fragile coral).