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Hawaii Sea Turtles image
 
Modern science shows that sea turtles have been swimming the Earth's oceans for well over 100 million years--even pre-dating many dinosaurs. In addition, the turtle is an important symbol in the mythologies of many indigenous cultures, usually representing creation, longevity, and wisdom in these belief systems. Turtles are thus truly ancient beings-both in geological and mythological terms. As integral parts of the marine ecosystem, turtles are also useful indicators of the vitality of the overall marine environment.


Blog about Hawaii's Green Sea Turtles Further Down on This Page
Sea turtles are gentle reptiles that spend the majority of their lives in the ocean. Females reach reproductive age after 35 to 40 years, and only then return to the beach of their birth to lay their eggs for the next generation. Although a female may lay hundreds of eggs in one season, only a few of the hatchlings will survive to reach maturity.

Hundreds of years ago, there were many millions of sea turtles swimming the Earth's oceans.
Today, all seven species of sea turtle are considered either endangered or threatened.

 
Hawaii Sea Turtles image
 
There are three species of sea turtles native to the Hawaiian Islands: the Green, the Hawksbill, and the Leatherback. These fascinating creatures have played important roles in the environment and culture of Hawaii's people. Of the three native sea turtles, the Green Turtle (Honu) is the most common.

These turtles, which can weigh up to 400 pounds, are primarily vegetarians. They eat algae or limu (Hawaiian seaweed) growing underwater on coral reefs and on rocks close to shore. Green turtles prefer to live near large "pastures" of limu that are located in near shore waters around the Hawaiian Islands. The carapaces (upper shells) of adults are dark with olive or gold flecks and receive their name from the color of their body fat rather than their shell color.

 
Hawaii Sea Turtles image
 
Although sea turtles live most of their lives in the ocean, adult females must return to land in order to lay their eggs. Scientists believe that nesting female turtles return to the same beach on which they were born. Hawaii's green turtles migrate up to 800 miles from their feeding areas near the coast of the main islands to nesting beaches in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The males accompany the females in this migration and mate with them offshore from the nesting beaches.

Females often come ashore to nest several times in a season, but wait two to three years before nesting again. Green turtles nest only at night and can be frightened away by lights or movement. It is not easy for these turtles to find a suitable nesting site on land, where they no longer have the buoyancy of water to support their bodies. While on land, these animals shed large, sticky tears that remove excess salt from the body and prevent the eyes from being covered with sand.

When a female finds a suitable nesting site, she uses her flippers to dig a body pit about her. She then digs a flask-shaped egg cavity with her rear flippers. This arduous effort generally lasts all night. After depositing about 100 eggs, the female covers the nest with sand and returns to the sea, leaving the eggs to incubate during the next two months.

After hatching, the tiny, one-ounce turtles take several days to emerge from the nest. A single hatchling would not be able to emerge from the nest by itself. Working as a team, hatchlings scrape sand off the roof of the nest cavity and pack this sand on the floor. In doing so, hatchlings raise their nest toward the surface of the beach. When they are about an inch from the surface, the topmost hatchlings cease their activities if the sand is hot. Cool sand indicates that it is night or an overcast day. The hatchlings then emerge from the nest, thereby avoiding the sun's heat and perhaps predatory birds.

Once out of the nest, the hatchlings race to the water and swim constantly for the next 36 to 48 hours. They are then carried by currents to favorable areas in the open ocean, where they grow for several years until they join adult and juvenile turtles at the coastal feeding grounds. While in the open ocean, young green turtles are probably carnivorous and feed on
invertebrates such as jellyfish.

Some hatchlings never reach the oceans and are snatched up by hungry crabs. Hatchlings may also be disoriented or impeded by obstacles and die from the suns heat. Once in the ocean, sharks and other carnivorous fish eat hatchlings. Due to their size and swiftness in the water, adult sea turtles have only two predators: sharks and people.
Tiger sharks regularly feed on all sizes of green turtles.

 
Hawaii Sea Turtles image
 
The life span of sea turtles is unknown. Hawaiian green turtles seem to grow very slowly in the wild and may take 40 to 50 years to reach sexual maturity. Male and female green turtles look like they are mature, then the male develops a long tail extending beyond the hind flippers. A female's tail extends only a short distance beyond the end of her shell.

Generally, only female sea turtles leave the ocean after entering it as hatchlings. But in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands male and female green turtles crawl onto beaches and lie motionless in the sunlight for hours. Turtles may bask in order to increase their body temperature or to avoid tiger sharks.

 
Hawaii Sea Turtles image


The entire chain of Hawaiian islands is made up of 132 islands, but the eight main islands are the Big Island of Hawaii, Oahu, Maui, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, and Ni'ihau. Located over 2400 miles from the closest continent and surround by the beautiful Pacific Ocean, Hawaii has developed a unique underwater environment. In fact,over 25% of Hawaii's marine life is endemic to Hawaii.

The most visited islands are the largest islands: Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island. They each have their own unique characteristics and preferred dive locations. The islands of Ni'ihau, Lanai, and Molokai are dived less frequently, but they offer some unique marine life and dive sites. These smaller island dives are generally recommended for intermediate to advanced divers. Diving off of Kahoolawe requires the chartering of a dive boat.

With mandated protection, Hawaii's reefs have become abundant with these creatures. Look for them resting under ledges or swimming freely. Be especially sensitive to a resting turtle and never grab a turtle as you can literally drown them! These creatures have personalities and moods like you and I.

If paid the proper respect the turtles can give you a lifetime memory. There are a couple of subtle signs to watch for when near a sea turtle that signal you may be too close within their comfort zone. "Yawning" type, open mouth movements by the turtle are one. A sign of a more deeply irritated turtle is a "flipper swipe" whereas the turtle swipes his flipper over his forehead area. This is turtle-speak equal to flipping you off! Don't embarrass yourself (or be deemed insensitive) by being flipped off by a turtle, back off if you see that flipper creep up. Other signs of disturbance can include sudden awakening from a sleep-like state on the seafloor, an increase in swimming speed and diving towards deeper water.

 

 

Comments
40 Responses to Hawaii Sea Turtles
On Jul 2, 2014 at 6:44P Grant said
I'm currently in Kaui'i and I just barely went snorkeling and saw 3 green turtles. They are really awesome and the highlight of my trip. Whenever they come up on Poipu a bunch of people surround them and crowd them and it makes me mad cuz people are so stupid and don't care about the turtle's well-being. Anyways they are great and its a great experience!
On Apr 10, 2014 at 11:02P Lelia Audino said
We are visiting Maui and are staying in Kihei. We had the pleasure of seeing 3 beauties today at Kamaole sands beach 3. They were swimming up onto the rock/lava. We were 1 foot away from them. Would have loved to touch them but of course we didn't. One was also just floating around in the open water as we swam around. Great way to end off our first Hawaii vacation. Looking forward to returning in the near future
On Feb 27, 2014 at 1:47P Sue Boivin said
My husband and I were snorkelling in Maui recently and spotted two beautiful green sea turtles. It was fabulous to swim with them. Whenever they came up to the surface for air, we would do the same. They are surprisingly aware of our presence and of course we did not touch them. I love Hawaii and cannot wait to return! Sue from Montreal
On Jan 25, 2014 at 08:44A Patricia McCulley said
We are going to visit several islands this May-June. Have any of you seen the turtles come up to nest? We'd like to see some. 2 years ago we were at Cancun and were able to see parts of the amazing nesting. It took almost all night to see the whole process. I fell in love with those huge female turtles and the effort that they took to lay their eggs. Let me know if you have seen any nesting on Hawaii beaches, where and when. Thanks!!
On Dec 5, 2013 at 04:42A chesney said
omg that is amazing to see this
On Nov 1, 2013 at 02:41A Mae Brewer said
I am only an 11 year old girl named Mae, in the summer holidays (this year)I took a lovely trip to Hawaii, I am all about animals and one of the days I took a trip to the beach. little did I know that I would break my leg!!! As I stood admiring the water, a huge wave crashed into me, my mind was racing with the question of why the wave hurt me so much! It turns out that the wave held a giant green sea turtle!! The turtle crashed into my leg and broke it! I was carried away to hospital in an air ambulance. I will always love turtles! If you ever get the chance to go to Hawaii, Then go! Just watch out for the waves and never stand too close. Unfortunatly I could not write this for myself, my carer did. I am still recovering!! Have fun in Hawaii!!!! I luv u guys!! ;-D
On Oct 25, 2013 at 6:58P sean edwards said
i will be there jan 3 - jan 11 was wanting to know how to see sea turtles what beach to go to with out snorkling kids are to young
On Oct 22, 2013 at 9:52P Graeme Hunichen said
I was swimming (with my goggles) at Waikiki Beach yesterday, over the rocks near where the boats launch, and was very surprised to swim over one very large turtle swimming past, then another. Amazing!!!
On Sep 23, 2013 at 4:16P Daniel said
I have seen middle-sized sea turtle when I was snorkeling in Lanikai beach 10-15m from the shore but I haven't seen any in Hanauma beach.Coral reef is much better in Lanikai than in Hanauma but is not as beautiful as in Okinawa.
On Mar 23, 2013 at 6:29P Evelyn said
I was swimming in the waters at Hale Koa Waikiki and a giant sea turtle surfaced and swam close by. Many told me it was a rare thing and meant good-luck and long life. Truly this glorious sea turtle encounter is an amazing, wonderful gift of nature to be forever treasured!
On Mar 7, 2012 at 12:40P Weronika said
Amazing!!! Is it possible to see turtles everywhere in Hawaii islands?? or only in some relevant places? Thanks!!
On Feb 5, 2012 at 6:30P Billie Harlow said
my sister and I just returned from Waikiki where we were literally next to 3 green sea turtles right in Waikiki at the shore... it caused quite the excitement to see them among waders in the water!! will never forget!
On Jan 18, 2012 at 09:28A Joy said
Sea turtles were along the beach while my son and daughter in law were getting married at North Shore...it was too cool...we were told they were a sign of good luck....
On Jan 3, 2012 at 10:51P David Davis said
My girlfriend and i were snorkeling at Ahihi bay on Maui and we spotted Steven Tyler of the vary famous band Aerosmith hanging out at the rental house right off the beach we also went snorkeling and saw the most beatiful majestic green sea turtles. The turtles were huge at least 4ft long and 3ft wide they swam right next to us. they were very friendly and gentle. beautiful beasts they are! and i have to say that was better than seeing ST from Aerosmith!
On Dec 10, 2011 at 2:50P Hannah said
I have had great experinces being able to see the honu in the water and on land. I do all that i can to make sure they stay safe. I don't like when people gather around them and trap them in a corner. I have lived here for about a year and a half. And i see turtles all the time at Kahaluu and Magic sands. People need to realize what they are doing when they gather around. Turtles are magestic and pretty. Lets keep them around!
On Oct 31, 2011 at 03:21A brittany said
The Green Sea Turtle is so Beautiful*..I have never*** seen anything so Amazingly Beautiful in my entire life.! Hawaii is amazing also but The Green Sea Turtle my God Is soo beautiful..!(: i would go see it again if i could
On Sep 7, 2011 at 8:54P sheree r said
Swam with alot of them today in Kona Hawaii. What a great day, they were very friendly and they swam to you and really seemed to like everyone doting on them.
On Jun 18, 2011 at 05:23A Pam said
Enounters with the turtles while you're snorkeling can happen quite unexpectedly, like the person who "swam into one." (I saw one two feet away when it floated up next to me!) However, I agree with Jamie's comment below about being wary of the message you send by showing someone so close. Thanks for the great info about turtles & their protection! On Nov 25, 2009 at 07:47A Jamie said Very informative site. Why do you show a picture of someone swimming too close to the turtles? This will give the idea that it is ok to swim so close. That is a mixed message and people should know not to swim so close to turtles. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
On May 28, 2011 at 09:47A Joe B. said
My family and I are leaving the Big Island today after a twelve day visit. We were fortunate in that we booked a hotel that has rooms that overlook a tidal pool that has six sea turtle living in it. They are there all day, either eating or warming themselves on the rocks. My daughter and I snorkeled yesterday at a beach next to us and as we were swimming, looking at the tropical fish, a turtle swam between us, it was fantastic. We swam a short distance behind it, got some fantastic pictures to share with friends and family. Out of everything we did over the past twelve day, yesterday was the high point of the trip, what beautiful, gentle animals the sea turtles are.
On May 27, 2011 at 08:13A Gina said
Went on Vacation to Oahu, Hawaii first week of May and it was absolutely the best vacation ever! People were so friendly and always had a smile on their face. The last full day I was there I told my boyfriend that seeing a sea turtle would top off the trip. Went to the beach for a swim and we seen at least 5 of them coming up for air. The first one we seen was maybe 2 feet from us...most beautiful sea creature ever! Sea Turtles are my favorite animals now!
On Feb 7, 2011 at 5:27P Jay Craddock said
I was snorkling off Weikiki beach today, on my was back to shore I swam right into a very large sea turtle, We stared at each other for a few minutes until the turtle swam away. It is the highlight of my nature experience so far!
On Jun 23, 2010 at 7:22P Deborah said
I have had the great opportunity to swim with the sea turtles in kauii. How majestic they are a true joy to see
On Jun 1, 2010 at 5:49P Aaliyah said
We recently went on an educational trip to Hawaii. WOW! wat an experience. Not only did we get to see a teenage turtle come up for air, we also got to experience swimming with them. They are gods gift to this world. They are absolutely beautiful and amazing!! Luvd every second
On Jun 1, 2010 at 06:55A Alex Danscak said
I love sea Turtles. They are cool in the water. We should protect them and all the other sea aniamls in the water too. They are very speical animals. They could do alot in the water. I like thier babies because they are so tiny and cute. I do want a sea turtle as a pet. We should stop killing these nice, happy, cute sea turtles because these are god craters and "Why" do you want to kill them.
On May 13, 2010 at 12:20P Corin-Mckayla said
OMG, ! i am at school and researching this topic for science and this information has gave me the most help out of all of the others, thank you!
On May 10, 2010 at 05:18A Dominique said
LOVE SEA TURTLES! THEY ARE SO AH-MAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I LOVE HAWAII TOO!!! With mandated protection, Hawaii's reefs have become abundant with these creatures. Look for them resting under ledges or swimming freely. Be especially sensitive to a resting turtle and never grab a turtle as you can literally drown them! These creatures have personalities and moods like you and I. If paid the proper respect the turtles can give you a lifetime memory. There are a couple of subtle signs to watch for when near a sea turtle that signal you may be too close within their comfort zone. "Yawning" type, open mouth movements by the turtle are one. A sign of a more deeply irritated turtle is a "flipper swipe" whereas the turtle swipes his flipper over his forehead area. This is turtle-speak equal to flipping you off! Don't embarrass yourself (or be deemed insensitive) by being flipped off by a turtle, back off if you see that flipper creep up. Other signs of disturbance can include sudden awakening from a sleep-like state on the seafloor, an increase in swimming speed and diving towards deeper water.
On Apr 15, 2010 at 08:44A Donna said
While vacationing in Hawaii this week my husband and I were blessed with the opportunity to see a beautiful giant sea turtle swimming under us off the beaches of Waikiki. It came up for air next to us then went on its way. We were later told that it was a sign of good luck.
On Apr 7, 2010 at 06:48A olivia said
thank you for this amazing information. I find it very useful, especially for turtle lovers like me! I have recently been assigned a project in my 6th grade social studies class, and we are supposed to write about what we like, and share it with other people using a poster board. I really appreciate this information, and I think you should keep writing! :)
On Dec 7, 2009 at 2:28P george mcflye said
turtles rule
On Dec 7, 2009 at 2:26P george mcflye said
When people see sea turtles in the movie "Finding Nemo," the sea turtles are relaxed. It is the same way in real life.
On Nov 25, 2009 at 07:47A Jamie said
Very informative site. Why do you show a picture of someone swimming too close to the turtles? This will give the idea that it is ok to swim so close. That is a mixed message and people should know not to swim so close to turtles.
On Aug 31, 2009 at 10:14A Lee said
It is common to see green sea turtles in Oahu waters, but if you see one, be mindful that they are endangered creatures and protected by law. If you come across a sea turtle when snorkeling, give it 10 to 15 feet of space and allow room for the animal to surface and breathe. It is against the law to approach, chase, surround, touch or swim with any protected marine mammal. To report suspected violations, call the NOAA Enforcement Hotline at 1-800-853-1964.
On Aug 23, 2009 at 4:04P Delores Foster said
I worked in Hawaii 1.5 years on a cruise ship and Kona and swimming with the turtles was somthing I did every Thursday and will never forget. it was amazing.
On Aug 5, 2009 at 5:07P Shelly said
Amazing sea turtles! A must see sight, just don't go out too far!
On Jul 31, 2009 at 5:09P Mark said
Im going to a place called the Turtle Airport, in Kauai. There I will fashion a saddle and fly a Sea Turtle.
On Jul 29, 2009 at 3:12P kathy said
Thank you for the information. Currently sitting with friends on Oahu looking out over the ocean and watching turtles lift their heads for air. The information is helpful for snorkling with the turtles.
On Jul 19, 2009 at 7:14P mikayla pettigrew said
i wish i could see a sea turtle up close and i will need alot more infomation on them for more school pojects for this year thanks.!!!
On Jun 24, 2009 at 2:15P Michelle De Marco said
Tank you for all the information. What beautiful creatures! I will be going to Hawaii in July and I hope to see a turtle any type will do I love them all. Could you send me information via email about where to dive on the big island where I will have the best chances to see turtles. I am a strong swimmer and can kyack also. I promise not to swim too close!
On May 19, 2009 at 07:14A mikayla pettigrew said
i like this website and if you can please send me some pictures of sea turtles for a school poject thanks.!
On Apr 27, 2009 at 04:18A Deems Booth said
I LOVE SEA TURTLES! THEY ARE SO AH-MAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I LOVE HAWAII TOO!!! I've never been there but my parents have and they say its so ahmazing!!!!!!! but ill have to see it to believe it...so yeah my point was that sea turtles are sooooooo ah-mazing and i love them and i want to have a pet turtle when i get older...my parents won't let me because im only a certain age and they don't think im responsible. when i get older, im moving to hawaii and i am going to surf with the sea turtles! my favorite ones are GREEN...thats my favorite color because of the color green is the color of grass and it smells goode and well yeah...BYE. :)
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