Commonly known by their Hawaiian name of Honu, there are only a few more unforgettable experiences in all of Hawaii than to swim with the Hawaiian green sea turtle. These gentle giants gracefully gliding through the water are a common sight for snorkelers throughout the Hawaiian islands, but more frequent off the shores of Maui.
While you can easily book a tour to go swim around with these sea turtles, you can just as easily swim around with them on your own. However, it is important to know how to do it safely. It’s not that these sea turtles pose any threat to your safety, but they are a threatened species and a federally protected one. So while you can still get pretty close with these creatures, you first need to learn how to do it safely. Additional necessary information you can read on this page.
Where to Snorkel with Sea Turtles
While green sea turtles are occasional visitors in Lanai’s Hulopo’e Bay or off the Big Island mixed in with the Hawksbill sea turtles, the largest populations live off the coast of Maui. On both the west and south side of the island there are a small handful of snorkel spots where you are likely to spot green sea turtles.
Hawaii than to swim with the Hwaiian greeWest Side of Maui
- Honolua Bay
- Mokulei’a Bay
- Pu’u Keka’a (Black Rock)
- Mala Wharf
- Napili Bay
South Side of Maui
- Wailea Point
- Maluaka Beach
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I Touch Sea Turtles?
Definitely don’t try to touch the sea turtles. It doesn’t really harm them, but they are wild animals and need to be away from as much human contact as possible. In fact, since Hawaiian green sea turtles are federally protected, it is actually illegal to touch or harass them. Be sure to give them as much space as possible. Even if they swim right at you, it is your responsibility to move.
If you are truly a lucky soul, they will swim up and check you out or do a fly-by as they glide right next to you. They can get close to you, but make sure to give them their space.
Do Sea Turtles Need to Breathe?
A sea turtle isn’t a fish, so it doesn’t have gills. It actually holds its breath. When at rest, a sea turtle can hold its breath for four to seven hours before it needs to return to the surface to grab a gulp of air. However, a stressed or panicked sea turtle can burn through its oxygen within a couple of minutes. This is why it is so important to give sea turtles their “room to breathe,” so to speak. If you get too close and constantly follow them around, a sea turtle will need to go up for more air, but if it doesn’t feel safe, it will retreat into a cave or an enclosure, putting its life at risk.
What are Those White Clumps?
If you see a sea turtle swimming around with white clumps that look similar to cauliflower on its face or on the edge of its shell, you may be tempted to try to pick them off. Unfortunately, it is not possible. Those clumps are actually tumors.
In recent years, Hawaiian sea turtles have developed a disease known as fibropapilloma, a virus in the herpes family which causes turtles to grow those white crusty tumors. While it can’t be spread to humans and the tumors themselves aren’t harmful, they do grow large enough so that they will interfere with basic functions like eating, breathing, and swimming.
Although the virus is on the increase, scientists don’t have a way to treat it and don’t yet know the long-term effects it will have on Hawaii’s most popular species.So