Tips for Watching Sea Turtles in Hawaii by Bobbie Sullivan
Most visitors who come to Hawaii spend a good bit of their time in and around the ocean, swimming, snorkeling, beach-combing or just enjoying the sunshine and salt air. Sometimes, if they are lucky, they will get to see one of Hawaii’s most special shoreline residents – the sea turtle.
Several species of sea turtle can be found in Hawaiian waters, but the one that is most commonly seen is the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas). These creatures are native to Hawaii. Most Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles breed and nest in the uninhabited Northwest Hawaiian Islands, away from human populations.
During their adolescent and early adult years, they spend a lot of time at or near the shorelines of the main islands of Hawaii. Green Sea Turtles can be seen, at least occasionally, on any of the Hawaiian Islands you might visit, but they seem to be most plentiful around Maui and the Big Island of Hawaii.
A diver or snorkeler may be lucky enough to see a sea turtle swimming underwater, or resting on a coral shelf or a sandy patch on the bottom. If you happen to see a turtle in the water, it’s very important that you not try to grab or – heaven forbid! – try to ‘ride’ the turtle. Sea turtles are air breathers. They can stay underwater for quite awhile, but from time to time they have to come to the surface for a breath. They become instinctively frightened if they are restrained or cornered underwater.
People wading in shallow water close to shore sometimes encounter sea turtles, especially in rocky areas. The Green Sea Turtle’s favorite food is a type of seaweed (limu) that covers inshore rocks. If you visit a rocky shoreline, you may notice a turtle lazily grazing on limu, but just as with the turtles you may see underwater, they do not like to have their space invaded while they are feeding. Do not approach a turtle that is grazing. Watch from a distance that will not make the turtle uncomfortable.
Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles engage in a behavior called ‘basking.’ They haul themselves out of the water onto rocks or sand, and go to sleep. Marine scientists are not exactly sure why Green Sea Turtles do this. Some think that they do it to rest, away from their natural predators. Another theory is that basking serves as a way to elevate the turtle’s body temperature. In any case, this behavior is quite common. As a result, beachgoers in certain areas are very likely to see one or more turtles lying on the sand, looking like they’re working on their tans!
Some people become alarmed when they come across a turtle basking in the sun. They imagine that the turtle is injured, or that it has become stranded. Be assured that this is a natural behavior. The creature will haul itself back into the ocean when it has finished its nap -- and without any help!
You should know that sea turtles are protected by both State and Federal laws. It is important not to touch or harass the turtles, whether they are in the water or on the shore. Please respect them and enjoy them from a safe distance – safe for both you and the turtles!Have a wonderful time in the ocean in Hawaii, and stay safe."
Have you seen the turtles on your last vacation in Hawaii and if so, what was the best part meeting them? Tell us your about your encounter with Hawaiian green sea turtle.
Mahalo and aloha, Pua Hawaii Vacations
Mahalo again Bobbie for helping our Hawaii visitors to get more educated about the ocean life around the islands.