Two of the best ways to see turtles in Maui is by joining them in the water, or observing them on land!
One of our favorite ocean activities is snorkeling with turtles on Maui. Maui is home to 3 species of native sea turtles including the Leatherback sea turtle, Hawksbill sea turtle and the most common Green sea turtle.
Best Places to See Turtles While Snorkeling
You can see turtles all around the island of Maui, but some locations we see turtles more often and they are more accessible for us to observe. There are a few top Maui snorkeling spots we see Green sea turtles, some you can swim to, from shore, others require boat access.
Olowalu Reef, located in Lahaina, Maui, is a popular snorkel destination and you can often spot green sea turtles swimming through the beautiful coral or hanging out in cleaning stations allowing little fish to clean the algae from their shells. Oluwalu Reef is also a great snorkel spot for all levels of snorkelers because it is shallow and is very protected from the wind, creating a calm place to explore the ocean. Some of Oluwalu Reef can be snorkeled from shore, other parts of the reef are best chartering a boat to.
Another popular Maui snorkel spot to see turtles is at Honolua Bay on the West side of Maui. Park and walk along a tropical path until you reach the water. This bay is one of the top 100 surf locations in the world, so you want to make sure you are snorkeling when there is no surf, or else the water visibility will be poor.
You can check with a local snorkel shop to find out if the conditions for snorkeling are ideal, or if you see surfers out, don’t enter the water to snorkel. Not only does visibility affect you seeing the turtles, it can affect your safety if there are any predator marine animals in the water.
Summertime the water is calm and clear here, giving us great snorkel visibility! The sea turtles are often swimming through these colorful reefs and hanging out at turtle cleaning stations about 200 yards from shore.
Island of Lanai
A more remote location to snorkel with turtles would be the island of Lanai, about a half hour boat ride from Lahaina, Maui.
Leaving Maui by boat, we travel about 8 miles to the coast of Lanai, where there are more than a dozen remote snorkel spot to choose from. One favorite is Club Lanai, named for the reefs location set right outside the beach where Club Lanai was once a popular day club for tourists. Now the club is vacant but the reef is very much alive with marine life! Here we see our favorite green sea turtles, many tropical fish and often spot shy reef sharks cruising through the sandy reef channels.
Turtle Town, Maui is a well advertised spot to snorkel with turtles, but it is just a general term for the southern coast of Kihei and Makena where the rocky reef is home to sea turtles. Many of these locations can be reached by shore but snorkel tours on a boat will take you to the exact spots where conditions will be best for spotting our turtle friends!
Best Places to See Turtles on Land
Sea turtles spend the majority of their time in the ocean, which is why snorkeling with turtles is a great way to observe their movement, behaviors and beauty. But, there are a few beaches and coastlines on Maui where you can see turtles in their natural habitat on land! Sea Turtles will come to shore to enjoy some sunshine and also during nesting season. Sea Turtles can sleep in the ocean and do not need to go to shore to rest. We see them more often along the coastline when the waters are calmer, which is typically in the summertime.
Ho’okipa – North Shore of Maui
Sea turtles frequent the beaches of Ho’okipa on the North Shore of Maui. They will often beach in groups around sunset.
The rocky coastline of Kaanapali is home to many turtles, if you walk along the shore you can count dozens resting on the rocks, camouflaged with the dark reef. They are eating algae off the rocks, and as herbivores this is one of their main diet staples.
Wailea and Kihei – South Side of Maui
The south side of Maui also has ideal conditions for sea turtles making their beach landings. You may see a sea turtle on the sandy beaches of Wailea or along the coast of Kihei’s many beaches.
Safety When Observing Sea Turtles
Always observe sea turtles from a distance, we do not want to disrupt their normal routine which can affect their breathing, eating, mating and nesting habits and in turn affect their population.
Learning how to better protect our ocean life is a great way to say Mahalo to the ocean for sharing with us so much beauty. Always recycle, use reef safe sunscreen, avoid non-reusable plastics and respect marine life by avoiding feeding or touching and instead allowing them to live harmoniously in their natural Hawaii habitat.
Sea Turtles Facts on Protection & Endangerment
Because all sea turtles are either endangered or protected, we encourage respectful encounters which include never touching a sea turtle (this is actually against the law!) and giving turtles their space so they can interact naturally in their marine environment as well as come to the surface to breathe. Although turtles can hold their breath, they must feel safe to return to the surface to breath or they can drown. Violating the protections of the sea turtles can lead to $100,000 in fines and even jail time.
The reason their protection is taken so seriously is because the environment turtles are trying to survive in is much harsher than it used to be, including pollutant runoff from coastal developments, less private locations for nesting and entanglements from fishing lines and nets.
If you observe a turtle that appears to be sick or in danger, report it to NOAA (888) 256-9840, they will send trained officials to help! Protecting these amazing creatures ensures they survive for many more generations!