10 Facts about Rays in Hawaii

One of the most exciting fish to see while snorkeling in Hawaii is a ray. A distant cousin of the shark, rays can often be seen in Maui’s waters fairly close to shore. Highly photogenic, seeing rays is always the highlight of any snorkeling adventure. Here are 10 facts about these lovely fish.

  1. Hawaii is home to three types of rays: manta, stingray and spotted eagle. The manta ray is the most common, especially near shore.
  2. The manta rays you’ll see near Maui’s shores average 5-to-8 feet, but can reach over 14 feet.
  3. Rays have been around in their modern form for at least 20 – 25 million years. Manta rays, however, have only been around for about 4.8 million years.
  4. Because manta rays can be identified individually by researchers because of the distinctive spots on their bellies.
  5. Manta rays have the largest brains amongst the 32,000 species of fish.
  6. The “stinger” on a manta ray does not work. So no fear of being injured (from the tail, anyway) of a manta ray. However, should you come across the aptly named stingray, watch out. Their tales are still very much venomous.
  7. The easiest way to distinguish a manta ray from a stingray is by color. Manta rays are black, while stingrays are brown. Stingrays also sport shorter tails.
  8. If you’re one of the lucky ones who sees a ray breach (leap from the water), the ray you’re most likely seeing is a spotted eagle ray. They are known for the colorful (white, yellow and green) dots on their backs, which contrast nicely against their black skin.
  9. Rays are distant cousins of sharks. Like sharks, instead of bones, their vertebra is made of cartilage. They also must constantly swim in a forward motion to pass oxygenated water through their gills. They cannot swim backwards.
  10. As of 2009, manta rays in Hawaii’s waters are protected against killing and capturing. Offenders will receive criminal penalties and fines of up to $10,000.

Please tell us about any rays you have come across in Hawaii in the comments below. Thanks!

Marine Life Guidelines: The Importance of Ocean Etiquette

It seems whenever people are near marine animals, they tend to lose composure. I mean, we get it. At Hawaii Ocean Project, we run all sorts of ocean charters that bring visitors within stunning proximity. We see firsthand how visitors react, most of them being their first time interacting with sea life, so all too often decorum is the first thing to go. Fortunately, ocean etiquette is easy to keep in mind. It maintains the safety of observation for visitors and protects the well-being of the animals. Safeguards may not sound like fun, but believe us, you can still have fun while being mindful of our ocean friends. Respect isn’t just a human concern. It’s necessary when interacting with nature.

The main thing we like to emphasize is distance. We do get visitors as up close to the phenomenon as possible, but never at the expense of the animal’s privacy or the safety of our passengers. Distance ensures the safety of both parties. Even on our Whale Watch tours, we will never chase down a whale like Captain Ahab. We could potentially disrupt their migration patterns or worse, get between a mother and her calf. That is a fury we’d like to leave to the imagination. In any case, humpback whales are in such high frequency in the surrounding waters of Maui that they tend to find us. When they do, we shut off our engines and let the spectacle unfold.

That’s what we stress the most on our tours. We are not out to disturb or provoke, and we pass this along to our passengers. When you’re in the water, don’t go searching for active phenomena. Let it find you. There are over 250 species to be found at Molokini Crater alone. Dolphins frolic alongside our Lanai excursions. Green sea turtles pop by on shore from time to time. The ocean is plenty active as it is. We are lucky enough to be able to interact with them the way we do.

You are guaranteed to see a variety of sea life on our snorkel tours. These charters are so frequent, the coral’s residents have become accustomed to our presence, but that isn’t something to take advantage of. Though it’s tempting, do not touch the animals. Just a slight curiosity can run the risk of injuring them. Fish are covered in a slimy coating that protects them from disease and infection. A pet, even a touch, is enough to remove the coating on their bodies and thus leave them vulnerable.

Chasing or prodding fish could agitate them, and an agitated fish will do a lot more than prod you back. The same goes for green sea turtles. Just because they’re slow, it does not mean you can chase them. They’re not ninjas, but they do bite. They are protected under Hawaii state law, as are Hawaiian monk seals – themselves protected under the Endangered Species Act, which is all the more reason for us to leave them be. We are not here to bother, just to observe.

We ask that you do not feed the animals either. It may seem harmless, but giving them food they’re not accustomed to can disrupt their feeding cycles and have serious repercussions for their health. Feeding animals conditions them to receive food as opposed to gathering for themselves, thus changing their natural behavior which they will pass onto their young. There’s an entire ecosystem down there that lives in harmony. We are not here to disrupt that.

Ocean etiquette is a simple matter of respect. Everyone, even fish, deserves our respect. This is their home. We are guests. More importantly, we are stewards. It’s up to us. At Hawaii Ocean Project we are doing what we can to minimize our impact on the ocean. We never dump or litter; we take our trash with us. We tie our vessels down on mooring lines instead of anchoring. We immediately cease our engines if there’s a whale nearby and allow them the peace of uninterrupted passage. It’s all for the safety of these animals and their environment. This isn’t about saying what you can or can’t do in the ocean. It’s about being mindful of a place that millions of others call home.

Join us on one of our many ocean tours and discover for yourself what our wonderful ocean habitat has to offer! Mahalo!

Why We No Longer Support Full-Faced Snorkel Masks

We recently updated our policy to no longer allow the use of full-faced snorkel masks, on our snorkel excursions, to Lanai and Molokini. While there is still much-needed research to be done on these trendy masks, we are not comfortable allowing the use of them, on our boats, at this time.

If you are not familiar with the full-faced masks, rather than having a traditional mask, which is composed of two separate parts: the mask (that covers your eyes and nose) and snorkel (tube that clips, on the side, of the mask to deliver oxygen orally from above the water) combination, a full-faced mask covers your entire face with a fixed tube that extends out from the forehead-area for breathing. In theory, these full-faced masks create a wider viewing area, and are easier to operate as a person can breathe “normally,” with both nose and mouth, without needing to get accustomed to using a snorkel. However, we believe the dangers of full-faced masks far outweigh the benefits.

In January, 2018, nine people passed away while snorkeling, and diving, in Maui’s waters. It is important to note that, in Hawaii, the majority of snorkeling fatalities are visitors, who are inexperienced snorkelers,* and there are many factors to take into consideration, such as age and physical ability. However, at least two of the eight snorkelers (the ninth man was a scuba diver) died while wearing full-faced snorkel masks; a percentage, us locals, find to be alarming.

Fire Services Chief Ed Taomoto told the Maui News: “Recently, we have noticed that a number of snorkel-related drownings, or, near- drownings have involved these new one-piece masks, but it is too early to make any sort of connection to the use of this equipment and drownings. We’re not sure if the increase in incidents involving these new full-face type masks is related to a problem with this design or if there is just more people using this type over the traditional two-piece snorkel set.” Although there is an undeniable correlation, experts are still working on determining the exact causation.

As reported by Hawaii Civil Beat, Dr. Philip Foti, an Oahu physician who specializes in pulmonary and internal medicine, addressed a conference, regarding drowning prevention, in 2017, and stated this about full-faced masks: “…there is dead space ventilation in the device that seems greater than in the standard snorkel tube. That dead space can cause carbon dioxide buildup.” This CO2 buildup could cause a person to become disoriented, or, even lose consciousness.

Another issue with the full-faced masks is that they appear to be prone to leaking and fogging up. Rather than creating a tight seal using silicone, around just the eye area, like a standard mask, many (not all) of these masks use lower-quality PVC to create the seal around the mask. As the PVC must cover the entire face, rather than just the eye area, the number of potential failure points is dramatically increased. Some have reported the simple act of squinting may cause leakage.** Because the masks cover the full face, once they fill with water, the user, literally, cannot breathe. Whereas, with a standard mask and snorkel, if the mask fills with water, you can still breath through the snorkel. To compound the matter, with straps that go completely around the head, removing the masks can be difficult. In a panic situation, remembering the steps to remove a full-faced mask may be forgotten.

While full-faced masks continue to sell well on Amazon (and get generally good reviews), and there are activity companies on Maui that will rent them, until further research is done on the full-faced masks, we are not allowing our guests to use them. If you bring one on-board, rest assured, you can still go out using the gear that we provide.

Finally, as an aside, in all nine water deaths, the men were swimming alone. We highly recommend snorkeling with a buddy, whether you’re entering the ocean from the beach, or, out on a snorkeling tour with a licensed operator.

Please let us know your experiences with full-faced masks, and tell us what you think of our policy update in the comments below.

*As cited by deeperblue.com: data shows that tourists are 10 times more likely to drown than residents, and that the drowning rate on the islands is 13 times the national average.

**From Hawaii News Now

Winter Adventures With Hawaii Ocean Project!

As one would expect, winter in Hawaii isn’t all that different from summer. Year-round subtropical weather is what makes the Hawaiian Islands a warm winter paradise. You wouldn’t normally associate winter and tropical in the same sense, but that’s exactly what to expect; and is perhaps why Maui is a haven for those seeking to escape the freezing temperatures elsewhere in the world. There’s no reason to spend your winter vacation huddled up in a hotel. From snorkel tours to whale watching charters and dinner cruises, winter is all the more reason to book any of our ocean excursions at Hawaii Ocean Project.

Winter months are wetter in Hawaii, but that’s hardly a deterrent to visit. Temperatures peak at 80 degrees, with lows in the high 60s. Maui does have its fair share of rainy days, but storms pass by rather quickly. Trade winds blow northeasterly, meaning the Northeastern side of Maui bears the brunt of these passing storms, while South and West Maui enjoy the sun. One of the more mystifying things about Maui; it can rain on one side of the island and not have a single drop on the other. Kihei and Lahaina are much more sheltered thanks to Haleakala and the West Maui Mountains, respectively, which is perfect because all of our destination charters take place along the southern stretch of the island.

Winter also happens to be whale watching season. Fresh off their summer feeding frenzy in Alaska, humpback whales make their annual trek to Hawaii for their winter migration. You’re not the only one trying to escape the cold weather! Hawaii Ocean Project takes full advantage of this opportunity with our Whale Watching Tours. These charters cruise right along the Au’au channel: warm and shallow waters that humpback whales specifically seek out to raise their calves, so you’ll see tons of breaches and fins at play. Vessels come complete with a 360-degree view of the ocean so you never miss a thing. Peak season alone is from January to March. With as many as 10,000 humpbacks frequenting the surrounding waters of Maui, we’ll provide you with plenty of reasons to be excited for the winter.

Our Molokini Snorkel Tour allows you to take full advantage of the warm and crystal-clear waters of the Pacific. Snorkeling at Molokini crater is truly a refreshing experience to savor. Where else can you swim inside a volcano? There’s no sand or debris, ensuring for stunning visibility, and the crater itself provides shelter from waves, the current, and the wind so you can explore the reef and the sea life below without interruption. And to think, you’re down to a swimsuit while your friends and family on the mainland are layering up. You’ll be the envy of everyone.

If you’re feeling even more adventurous, we also offer our Lanai Snorkel Tour. Lanai’s coasts are virtually uncrowded for a more private snorkeling experience. Climb aboard our double-decker catamaran and enjoy the show of dolphins whom tend to tag along on these excursions. We’ll do you one better – snorkel charters in the winter tend to double as whale watching tours due to the sheer volume of humpback whales. It’s like Christmas morning out on the open waters of the Pacific.

Our charters aren’t without festivities of our own. A Sunset Dinner Cruise can either kick-off those holiday festivities, or serve as a capper to your winter vacation. Our luxury vessel accommodates well over 100 passengers, but the cruise itself is as intimate as, well, a sunset cruise should be. Most charters have docked for the day, meaning the ocean and the pristine view of the horizon is yours for the taking. And that’s only the beginning of the cruise. We have a three-course meal waiting for you, rounds of drinks for those 21 and over, as well as live entertainment to serenade you while you dance beneath the stars.

Whether fall has just begun, or winter is in full swing, at Hawaii Ocean Project we are happy to accommodate your winter stay on Maui. You’ll find that winter is just as good a time for a vacation, if not better. We also offer a dinner combo with any snorkel or whale watching charter for double the fun and adventure. With so many activities to choose from, you might even forget it’s winter. That’s part of the experience. Book any of our tours online and save 10% on a charter of the season.

Avoid Getting Seasick with These Simple Remedies

I’m writing from experience. I was the only person to get sick on a snorkel excursion to Molokini… and I work here! Since that trip, I’ve been trying various ways to avoid feeling that way again. Of course, if you don’t get sick, it’s hard to know if the reason you made it out OK is because your stomach was just better that day, the sea was calmer or because of the remedies you tried. All I can say is that I haven’t been sick since, knock on wood. Here are some of things I’ve tried. Your results may vary…

I’ve tried Bonine and Dramamine and both worked great. I didn’t have even a hint of sickness. However, both also caused drowsiness for the entirety of the rest of the day and into the evening. On the plus side, I’m a horrible sleeper and they knocked me out. If you prefer sleepiness to seasickness, Bonine and Dramamine have been proven over the years to work, and I can vouch that they both worked great for me.

NATURAL REMEDIES (In lieu of taking Bonine or Dramamine)
– Eating ginger is a popular, natural way to avoid getting seasick. I now start every trip with a ginger ale (carbonation is also thought to help). Then throughout the trip, I chew on ginger candies. I’m not sure if this alone helps, but combined with the rest of this section, it’s worked for me.
– Avoid greasy, fatty and spicy foods for 24 hours before your trip
– Accupressure bands seem to work for me when I’m in the water. When I snorkel in rough water and need to keep my wits (no medications that make me sleepy), this is the way I go. Accupressure bands, which are worn around the wrist, can be found online and in many drug stores around Maui.
– Aromatherapy. The CDC reported that you can trick your brain away from the motion sickness by engaging your other senses. I had recently taken a trip up to the Lavender Farm here on Maui and purchased a small bottle of lavender. When the going got rough on the boat, I rubbed a little under my nose and sure I enough, I avoided sickness. Again, I can’t say for fact that this was the reason why. But combined with everything else, I made it unscathed.
– Stay hydrated. This is pretty much the key to life, right? But truly, I keep a bottle of water with me at all times and drink the entire trip.

– Keep an eye on the horizon. Of course, if you’re on a whale watch, this sort of defeats the purpose of the trip, but if you’re on a snorkel trip, a general boat ride or a dinner cruise, staring at the horizon may help.
– Avoid looking at your phone or reading. Again, keep that head up.
– Try standing at the rail. The fresh air on your face should help you out.
– If you’re already feeling nauseous, try going below deck and sitting or lying on the floor.
– Put on your headphones and listen to music. Like aromatherapy, it’s all about tricking your brain into thinking about something other than motion sickness.

Are you prone to motion sickness? Please share your remedies in the comments below to help out our other passengers. Mahalo!

Best Beaches for Young Children on Maui

For your little mermaids and mermen, Maui’s coastlines provide ample child-friendly beaches. No matter what part of the island you’re on, you will find a wonderful beach for your family. Here are the six beaches we think are best for families with children of all ages, though we focused on beaches for toddlers and younger children.

Baby Beach at Baldwin Beach (Paia)
The only downside to Baby Beach at Baldwin is the trek from the parking lot (and bathrooms). On the plus side, the walk is along a gorgeous sandy beach. Once you arrive at Baby Beach, as marked by a large off-shore reef that blocks the shore from large waves, you’ll find yourself in a beautiful lagoon with the best tide pools on Maui. The waters here are flat, so they’re perfect for young children. Pro tip: If you Google map “baby beach paia” you’ll find backroads that will take you directly to the beach, thus skipping the long walk down the beach we mentioned above. You’ll still need to make the walk, however, for bathrooms and showers.

Baby Beach in Lahaina
This one is strictly for the toddlers. Blocked by a large reef, Lahaina’s Baby Beach is the perfect place for youngsters to play in the ocean with little fears of being caught by rogue waves. You’ll still need to keep an eye on your kids, as you would in any water situation, but you can rest easy knowing Mother Nature won’t do anything wicked. Older kids, say 5 and up, though, may find this beach a little boring.

Kamaole Beaches (Kihei)
We’ll lump all three of the Kamaole beaches, which run along the south shores of Kihei, together. They all have ample parking, large restrooms, showers and lifeguards. They also have nice sand and just enough wave action to engage older children, without being too rough for the little ones, though this can vary by the day. Occasionally, you’ll see red flags warning of dangerous conditions. If you see these, obviously, proceed with caution. The other nice thing about these beaches are the food and snack options across the street.

Kuau Cove (Paia)
Also called Mama’s Fish House Beach because it’s directly below the famed Paia restaurant. The beach, protected by a large reef, has smooth waters and excellent tide pools. For locals, this is often the first place we take our children snorkeling as the conditions are perfect for learning. Though there are no beach amenities like showers or restrooms, it’s still a wonderful beach for small children.

Napili Bay
Though parking can be hard to come by, if you can get to Napili Beach (go early!) you will be rewarded with one of the great beaches in all of Maui. The water here is mostly glassy, though there are days when the surf picks up. Again, use your best judgment. But overall, due to the sheer beauty of the ocean and the sands, this is a beachgoers nirvana. Turtles often frequent the bay and the snorkeling, in calm conditions, is lively enough to keep older kids (and parents) engaged.

Sugar Beach (North Kihei)
Its formal name is Kealia Beach, but this 2.5 mile stretch of beach in North Kihei is more commonly called Sugar Beach or even (yet another) Baby Beach. We like this one because there is ample shade close to the shoreline. Shade at beaches is a bit of rare thing on Maui. The water here is generally calm. With 2.5 miles to play with, you will always have plenty of room to spread out and build giant sand castles!

Where are you favorite family beaches? Let us know in the comments below.

Kid Friendly Beaches in West Maui

Surrounded by the big ocean blue, we here at Hawaii Ocean Project strive to show you the best of Maui as well as help you avoid any hiccups while on your island adventure. For those families with keiki (children) in tow, we have listed some kid-friendly beaches on the west side to keep in mind as you venture out of your home away from home.

Laniupoko Beach
Just off Honoapiilani Highway, lies a weekend favorite of locals and visitors alike. With the shallow sandbar and a small cove sheltered from incoming waves, Laniupoko is the perfect beach for all ages. From learning how to surf to simply splashing in the water, we are sure that the entire family will easily find some fun here in the Hawaiian sun.

Olowalu Beach
If Laniupoko happens to be a little too populated for your liking, there is another child-friendly West Maui beach just south of the Olowalu General Store. Also off the Honoapiilani Highway, this spot offers no surf and plenty of shade throughout the day. Grab some snacks from the Olowalu store and enjoy a beach picnic with your family.

Baby Beaches
Living up to their names, both of these beaches feature a sandy playground for your little ones. With one in Lahaina and the other on the North Shore of Paia, no matter where you stay there is a baby-proof shoreline for you to lay out.

Protected by a large straight line of reef, the Baby Beach of Paia boasts warm, still waters while the Lahaina Baby Beach offers a low tide with little to no waves.

And if you are staying in South Maui, the Kamaole Beaches feature calm waters and makes a great place to spend the day! We take safety very seriously here at Hawaii Ocean Project and whether you are out on an ocean adventure or relaxing with the palms, we have some safety tips we would like you to keep in mind for you and your keiki.

Hawaii Ocean Safety Tips – Know Before You Go!

With all the fun and exciting activities here on Maui, it is no surprise that many adventures take place in the ocean. As an enjoyable experience for all ages, we would hate for you to miss out on the clear and warm Hawaiian waters. So it is important for us here at Hawaii Ocean Project to pass along a few ocean safety tips that we would like you to keep in mind as the waves wash over your feet.

Keep the local lifeguard in your sights
With an understanding of the current condition of the water, it is helpful to pay special attention to any information the lifeguard may announce. Important broadcasts can include information about high surf, rip currents, and dangerous rocks that are hidden due to the tide. It is always a good idea to keep an eye on where the lifeguard is at all times, so pick a spot to set up “camp” that has a clear view of the tower.

Please keep in mind that not all of the beautiful white sand beaches of Maui have a lifeguard on duty, so check out where lifeguard towers are present before you go!

Buddy System
As we mentioned before, the buddy system is crucial in any outdoor activity. Having an extra set of eyes to watch surroundings will prove useful and, besides, who really wants to have all the fun on their own? It is recommended that inexperienced swimmers, as well as children, wear life jackets in and around the water. Children should also never swim alone and should have a watchful adult close to the water in case of an emergency.

Currents and Wave Action
Along with keeping watch for your buddy, it is important to pay close attention to the water. While lifeguards are actively doing this, it does not hurt to be proactive yourself! Here in Hawaii, we are taught from a young age to never turn your back on the ocean and this is something we would like to share with you. Even in shallow water, wave action can easily cause a loss of footing in all ages which could potentially be dangerous.

Rip currents are another hazard that lies beneath the surface. Lifeguards have a pretty good idea of where these lie but should you find yourself caught in one it is crucial to remain calm and to not fight it, the last thing you want to do is exhaust yourself. Swim parallel towards the shore until you are out of the current and, if you cannot make it out, draw attention to yourself by calling for help. Should you see someone in trouble, call a lifeguard or 911 if one is not present.

Whether you are lounging amongst the beachfront palms or on an ocean adventure tour, safety is Hawaii Ocean Project’s number one priority and it is something that we take very seriously. While these tips may be general knowledge, there is value in recalling them before your next day of fun in the sun.

Explore Molokini on a Hawaii Ocean Project Snorkel Tour

As the sun begins to peek over the horizon, we invite you to board Hawaii Ocean Project’s own Lahaina Princess for the unique opportunity to grab an underwater look of a volcanic caldera just off the coast of Maui. Molokini is one of Maui’s premier snorkel destinations due to the clear waters and extraordinary marine life that has made the tiny crescent island their home, so you definitely do not want to miss this!

Join us at the main booth on the north end of Lahaina harbor at 6:30 am and hop on our 65 foot double-deck adventure yacht ready for an unforgettable day of play in the warm Hawaiian waters. At 7:00 am, we will ferry you to the historic Molokini Crater as our first location. And if you missed breakfast due to the early check-in time, we got you covered with a continental breakfast. Once anchored, grab your gear and get to snorkeling in one of the only three volcanic calderas in the world where this is possible!

As lunch time nears, we will hele (go) over to the captain’s choice for our second location and snag yet another chance to glimpse the underwater world. It is here we hope to introduce you to our favorite finned friends; one or more of the five different varieties of turtles you can see in Maui waters! On our way over, you will be served an ono (delicious) deli-style all you can eat lunch.

Unfortunately, your day with us does come to an end. As we head back to the Lahaina Harbor, simply sit back, relax, and take in the majestic beauty of Maui. Upon returning to the harbor, we are happy to give suggestions on how you can spend the rest of your day!

What’s included:

  • Breakfast and lunch along with unlimited water, soda, and juice.
  • Snorkel equipment with instructions from our crew.
  • Flotation devices (including life jackets, noodles, boogie boards.)
  • Reef-friendly sunscreen.

The Hawaii Ocean Project Molokini Snorkel tour is the only one that departs from Lahaina harbor, making it the perfect launching pad for those staying on the west side. Taking sail year round on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, we are sure that your Hawaii vacation itinerary has a spot for a memorable Maui adventure. Book online today and save!

Introducing the New and Improved HawaiiOceanProject.com!

We could not be more pleased and excited with our website’s latest look. Over the last few months, we have been working to craft an even better resource for you to discover your next Maui adventure in an easier to use format.

Massive Overhaul
To better serve you, we have worked especially hard with our design team to create a homepage that gives you a complete first look at what your time with Hawaii Ocean Project will be like. We have simplified our information with a fresh and new Frequently Asked Question section. If you have been wondering about booking a trip, where you can find us, or what to bring, you can now get most of your questions answered with no calls necessary.  And to be in the know before you go, we have created a detailed snorkel Q&A as well as a whale Q&A to have you well prepared for your next ocean adventure.

All New Packages
To maximize your precious time here on the Valley Isle, we have created combination tours to get you double the fun for an incredible price! With the return of our favorite gentle giants, grab a stunning show of the majestic Pacific Humpback Whales followed by a flaming sunset out on the water with our Dinner Cruise & Whale Watch Combo. Rather hop into the water and get a personal look? With our Dinner Cruise & Snorkel Combo, you can glimpse life in paradise above and below the surface!

Get to Know Maui
As part of being your source for all things Maui, we have created a section dedicated to what to do in the Valley Isle. From ocean activities to land activities and everything in between, you are sure to learn the ins and outs of the island before you even step foot off the plane! Looking for exclusive updates on Maui events, places to dine, online promotions, and more? Then join our Maui adventures newsletter and take a little bit of the island with you for when you go!

Take a Look Around
With all the exciting changes that we have made on our site, we could go on and on but we won’t! Here at Hawaii Ocean Project, we feel that there is a little fun in mystery and truthfully there really is too much good stuff to include in just one post. So poke around and stay awhile, you might just discover the adventure you have been looking for!