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The Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles
green sea turtle at rest
The Thrill of Seeing Turtles
One of the thrills of snorkeling in the beautiful waters of Hawaii is getting to see the majestic Green Sea Turtle, known in the Hawaiian language as "Honu". At over 150 million years old they are truly one of Mother Nature’s ancient mariners. As graceful as they are powerful, getting to view them in their natural habitat is a unique and electrifying experience.
Aboard the Maui Magic, we usually encounter (and get to snorkel with) these amazing creatures each and every day! These Green Sea Turtles tend to hang out around the lava fingers that jut out into the ocean near the shoreline where their favorite limu (the Hawaiian word for seaweed) grows. Turtle Arches, in particular, is known for its large and healthy population. And it seems that just as curious as we are about them, the turtles are just as curious about us too!
The sea turtle’s body is wonderfully adapted to life in the ocean. Their shells are lighter and more streamlined than those of their land loving cousins. Their front and rear limbs have evolved into flippers making them efficient and graceful swimmers. Usually returning to the surface every few minutes to breathe they can stay underwater for more than two hours when at rest! Often, while snorkeling, we get to see them just lying on the ocean floor resting. Snorkel slowly and look closely, because heir coloring helps them to blend in so it isn’t always easy to see them.
Their typical daily routine includes floating on the top of the waters to soak up the warmth of the sun, feeding on a diet of algae or limu or being groomed by small fish eager to gain a free meal of the algae that grows on their shells. These gentle giants can reach weights of 700 pounds and are often found living near coral reefs and rocky shorelines where limu is plentiful. While snorkeling or diving, please do not disturb them while they are eating or resting.
Why Call Them Green?
The name “Green Sea Turtle” comes not from the color of their shell but rather the color of their body fat caused from their diet. (The juveniles are not herbivores but are carnivores and will often feed on such treats as jelly fish or other such invertebrates until mature.) The meat from the sea turtles was such a highly sought-after delicacy and landed our giant friends on the threatened species list. Today their numbers are slowly recovering here in Hawaiian waters. Unfortunately this is not the case world wide; in some areas the sea turtles are still hunted for their meat, oil and shells and are near extinction. Aboard the Maui Magic, we are fortunate to see and snorkel with them almost daily!
Dating, Mating and Babies
Hawaii’s green sea turtles migrate as far as 700 miles from their feeding areas along the coasts of the main Hawaiian Islands to their nesting beaches in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Once they have reached the beaches where they lay their eggs, the female will come ashore as many as five times every 15 days to make nests in the sand and lay their eggs at night. The eggs take about two months to incubate and the temperature of the eggs during that time will influence the sex of the baby sea turtles.
Once out of the nest, the young turtles will make a dash for the ocean; unfortunately not all will make it. The mortality rate of juvenile turtles is fairly high. The good news is, for those who make it to maturity, they often live to be very old. While the longevity of Sea Turtles life is not documented, it is known that they don’t reach sexual maturity until about 25 years old! Because it takes so long to reach this milestone, recovery from a population decline is a slow process.
Hawaii’s Resident Turtles
Four of the seven existing species of sea turtles can be found in the Hawaiian waters. They are the Green Sea Turtle, the Hawksbill, the Leatherback and the Olive Ridley. The most common is the Green Sea Turtle. We experience the thrill and great honor of seeing them almost every day aboard our boats, the Four Wind II or the Maui Magic, on our way to Molokini or Coral Gardens. Not only do we get to see them from the boat, but often we actually get to snorkel with them!
Protect and Preserve
Please remember that if you have the pleasure of swimming with these great treasures DO NOT touch or harass them in any way. They are fully protected under the federal species act and under Hawaii state law. Swimmers and divers should be aware that riding sea turtles or harassing them is illegal and violators can be fined up to $100,000.00 per violation and can include a jail sentence.
Another fact to be mindful of, is that turtles use-up a lot of oxygen when they swim or are scared. So when you get too close to attempt to touch them, it forces them to consume more of their precious air-supply. It also forces them to leave their resting positions (while on the bottom or in the coral) and head to the surface for air. So they get less rest. Lastly, if you happen to harass them while they are attempting to surface for air, this can cause them to run out of oxygen and impede them from being able to reach the surface.
Please help us, and take part in the continued effort to protect this threatened species, by simply observing them from a respectful distance.
Snorkeling With Turtles in Maui
- Never attempt to touch or grab onto a turtle. They are a protected species here in Hawaii and it is against the law to handle or harass them.
- When snorkeling around turtles, at Olowalu or Coral Gardens, never aggressively approach them. Do not kick your fins too much, relax your movements, swim calm and very slowly and they will be more encouraged to let you approach.
- Turtles seem to enjoy gazing at their reflections from the glass of a snorkel mask. So remember to aim your mask towards the turtles gaze when near them.
- Keep your hands to your side and do not make wide arm movements. Turtles are often scared when they see big leg or arm movements.