Turtles are the rare creature you can see both underwater and on shore. While you’re more likely to spot turtles, on Maui at least, in the water, if you know where to look you can see the largest of them, green sea turtles, resting on the beach. Hawaii is home to three native sea turtle species and has a total of five sea turtle species in its waters. Here are the types of sea turtles you may find while wandering and snorkeling around Maui, listed in order of the likelihood of you spotting one.
Green Sea Turtles (very common)
Native to Hawaii, the green sea turtle is the most common turtle you will find here. The only herbivore amongst sea turtles, it feeds on marine plants near the shore. They can grow to a length of four feet and weigh over 400 pounds. Rarely nesting on the populated Hawaiian islands, every 2-to-5 years adult green sea turtles will migrate hundreds of miles to the isolated northwest Hawaiian Islands to mate and nest. Pro Tip: On Maui, a popular place to see them onshore is near sunset, resting below the viewing platform at Ho’okipa Beach Park in Paia.
Hawksbill Turtles (somewhat common)
The second sea turtle native to Hawaii, hawksbill turtles, named for their bird-like snout, can be seen around Maui, Molokai, Oahu and the Big Island. They use their long, narrow beaks to feed on sea sponges and other invertebrates. hawksbill turtles can grow to around three feet long and up to 200 pounds. They normally nest under vegetation, high up on rocky beaches.
Olive Ridley Turtles (rare)
Though the olive ridley is the most abundant of all sea turtles in the world, they are not that common in Hawaii. A smaller turtle, the olive ridley rarely grows longer than two feet and 100 pounds. They feed mainly on fish and invertebrates. The nesting pattern of olive ridleys is unusual. Hundreds or even thousands will gather off-shore, then all approach the beach together, laying their eggs at once.
Leatherback Turtles (rare)
The third turtle native to Hawaii, the leatherback is the largest sea turtle in the world. They can grow to eight feet long and 2,000 pounds! It is the only sea turtle without a hard shell. They feed on jellyfish and other invertebrates. Because leatherbacks do not (normally) nest on Hawaiian shores and are usually spotted in Hawai’i’s deep, off-shore waters, they are rarely seen by casual turtle watchers. Incredibly, they can dive to 4,200 feet and can stay underwater for up to 85 minutes.
Loggerhead (extremely rare)
Named for their relatively large heads, loggerhead turtles are the most abundant turtle in the United States coastal shores, but they are extremely rare in the Hawaiian Islands. Adults can grow to about three feet long and 150 pounds. Their big heads support powerful jaws which are used to crack the shells of even the largest mollusks, like conch.
Remember, touching sea turtles is against the law in Hawai’i! Please remain a respectful distance from turtles when you come across them. Mahalo!