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The Hawaiian Sea Turtle

24 Sep 2019

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Green Sea Turtles & Where to See Them on Maui

Sea Turtles have been around for over 100 million years, sharing oxygen with the dinosaurs before they went extinct. These ancient creatures predate the formation of the Hawaiian Islands, the oldest of which formed just 5 million years ago. Sea turtles love Hawaii’s diverse and geologically young coral reefs. Hawaii is home to five species of sea turtles - Green, Hawksbill, Leatherback, Loggerhead, and Olive Ridley.

Here on the island of Maui, the most common sea turtle you’ll spot while snorkeling or strolling on the beach is the Green Sea Turtle, or “Honu”. Read on to learn some interesting facts about the Green Sea Turtle, sea turtle conservation efforts, and the best beaches to spot sea turtles on Maui.


Facts About the Green Sea Turtle

Information courtesy of NOAA Fisheries Service.

  1. Hawaii is one of the 3 places on earth that Green Sea Turtles are known to bask (rest) onshore. 
  2. Green Sea Turtles are listed as ‘threatened’ in the Endangered Species Act. Keep a respectful distance of 20 feet.
  3. Green Sea Turtles aren’t green. They are a mixture of brown, black, grey, with yellow accents. Their name comes from their fat tissue which is green in color from eating a diet of seaweed and algae.
  4. Females grow larger than males.
  5. Mature adults can weigh up to 250 lbs, with a shell measuring 36 inches (90cm) long.
  6. Their lifespan is estimated to be 60-70 years.
  7. After hatching, babies head for the water and begin an open ocean journey that can last up to 10 years before returning to Hawaii’s reefs as juveniles. This period is referred to as the “lost years”.


Sea turtle hatchlings heading for their first swim. They won’t return for several years.


8. Baby sea turtles hatch at night on the beach after a 60 day incubation period.

9. Incubation temperature in the nest determines whether a hatchling will be male or female. Warmer temperatures produce more females, while cooler temperatures produce more males.

10. One clutch or turtle nest has an average of 100 eggs.

11. Adult turtles return to the beach where they were hatched to nest once they reach maturity. Talk about a good memory!

12. Over 90% of sea turtles in Hawaii nest in the French Frigate Shoals, located approximately 487 nautical miles northwest of Honolulu. After nesting, adults return to live and feed on coral reefs around the main Hawaiian islands. That is a long swim!

13. Adult female turtles will migrate to nest every 2-5 years.

14. You can tell the difference between mature male and female turtles by a claw which males have on each flipper, used to hold the female in place during mating. Males also have longer, thicker tails.

15. It can take as long as 25-40 years for a sea turtle to reach maturity and begin reproducing.

16. The main predator for turtles in Hawaii is the tiger shark. Baby sea turtles face more predators like birds, crabs, and feral animals as they make the dangerous crawl from their nest on the beach to the water.


Sea turtle hatchlings



Maui Ocean Center Marine Institute is the hub for sea turtle rescue and conservation efforts on the island. Located in Wailuku, the MOCMI coordinates response to sick, injured, and distressed sea turtles on Maui. To report a sea turtle in distress, call their 24-hour hotline (888) 256-9840. 

MOCMI established a fishing line recycling program at several high-traffic fishing spots around Maui to protect sea turtles. Turtles can get caught and tangled in fishing lines that are discarded carelessly in the water. If you want to support their work, you can make a tax-deductible donation on their website. You can also book a private beach cleanup with MOCMI. This can be a fun and educational way to give back while visiting Maui if you plan to be on the island more than a few days.


Basking on the beach. Basking helps regulate body temperature.


Where to Spot Green Sea Turtles on Maui

The best way to see a Green Sea Turtle while visiting Maui is to head for the water! They spend most of their time cruising around the reef snacking on seaweed, or basking in the sun on the beach. Not a bad life! Here are a few of our go-to beaches and snorkeling spots for sea turtle sightings. Remember, they are a threatened species. Keep a respectful distance of 20 feet and do not touch or feed the turtles.

1.    Kapalua Beach 

Snorkelers often report seeing large turtles in the water here. Grab some fins, a mask, and an underwater camera and see for yourself. Access to the water and reef is easy for kids with a sandy beach. Kapalua Beach is conveniently located on Maui’s west coast nearby major resorts and many of our vacation rental accommodations.

2.    Honolua Bay 

Located a few minutes north of Kapalua, Honolua Bay is home to a variety of marine life, including turtles. It is a snorkeler and diver’s paradise in the summer months when the waters are crystal clear and calm. In the winter months, waves pick up and it becomes a world-class surf spot. With a rocky water entrance, it’s a little more difficult to get in the water. The bay itself is enormous, so you won’t feel crowded by other snorkelers. 

3.    Ahihi Kinau Natural Area Reserve

Located in South Maui, Ahihi Kinau has a young reef in a shallow, protected cove. This spot is ideal for children and snorkelers who aren’t comfortable in deeper water or swimming farther from shore. It has a sandy beach and easy water entrance. It is located south of Wailea past Makena Beach, or ‘Big Beach’. 

4.    Ho’okipa Beach

Located on Maui’s North Shore near Paia, Ho’okipa Beach is popular with turtles and surfers. Respect the locals! That includes the turtles basking on the sand. Keep an eye out as you walk along this beach and any beach on Maui. Basking turtles have an uncanny knack for blending in with the sand as their shell dries in the sun.

5.    Turtle Lagoon at Maui Ocean Center

If you aren’t able to get in the water, you can view Green Sea Turtles at the Maui Ocean Center. Their Turtle Lagoon offers underwater and top views of the turtles. Mentioned in our blog post  Top 10 Things To Do With Kids On Maui, the Maui Ocean Center provides hours of entertainment with educational exhibits and an aquarium with an array of marine species found in Hawaii.


Where is your favorite spot to encounter Green Sea Turtles on Maui? Don’t forget to tag us in your photos on Instagram @mauiresortrentals for a chance to be featured on our feed.