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Where to See Turtles in Maui

If you’re headed on vacation to Maui, Hawaii you’re probably looking forward to seeing sea turtles swimming in the ocean or sunning themselves on the beach. Luckily sea turtles are a common sight on the Hawaiian islands and it’s not too difficult to find these endangered animals-if you know where to look. The Hawaiian islands can be an expensive place to visit, fortunately snorkeling and looking for sea turtles is one of the many free things to do on Maui. Read on to learn the best spots to see turtles in Maui.

see turtles in maui

The best spots to see turtles in Maui

On a recent family trip to Maui, my husband and I had one goal- to see as many sea turtles as possible. My husband especially loves turtles and during our other trips to Hawaii we hadn’t had much luck spotting them.

On our most recent visit we were visiting my parents who spend most winters in Maui. They are also avid scuba divers with insider knowledge of the island and know exactly where to find sea turtles.

Sea turtles have been around for more than 150 million years. They are the largest hard-shelled turtle in the world, reaching lengths of four feet and weights over 300 pounds. The island is home to five of the world’s seven different species:

  • Olive Ridleys
  • Loggerheads
  • Leatherbacks
  • Green Sea Turtles (honu)
  • Hawksbill Sea Turtles (honu‘ea)

The green sea turtle is the most common species on Maui, followed by the hawksbill.

Olive ridley, leatherback, and loggerheads are typically found in deeper waters.  If you see a turtle in Hawaii it most likely a green sea turtle.

Just remember, Hawaiian sea turtles are federally protected. Whatever you do, don’t touch them! (I have more information at the end of this post about these laws that your should definitely read)

Here is a video of my mom, Nicole scuba diving with a new Honu friend in the waters of Maui:

What is the best time of year to see turtles in Hawaii?

Anytime! Fortunately turtles are not seasonal like Humpback whales which just pass though town while on their migratory path. You can find turtles year round on all the Hawaiian islands.

What is the best time of day to see turtles in Maui?

If you want to see them swimming in the water then you should go snorkeling or scuba diving in the morning. The sea turtles will be in the water looking for breakfast among the coral reefs.

If you want to see them on land then the afternoon/evening is your best bet. When the winds pick up and the water gets rougher in the afternoon the turtles move to land to relax and sun themselves on the beach.

Where is Turtle Town in Maui?

Turtle Town Maui is known for its high population of Hawaiian green sea turtles. Turtle Town isn’t necessarily a specific spot or beach but more of a general area between Nahuna Point and Black Sand Beach in Maui. It typically refers to the stretch of beach near Makena landing.

Maluaka Beach is one of the best places to find turtles in Turtle Town. It is located along a stretch of Wailea-Makena coastline in front of the Makena Beach and Golf Resort, just south of Wailea at the end of Makena Road. The entrance is off of the main street.

Where can I find turtles in Lahaina?

Lahaina is one of the most popular tourist locations in Maui. There are lots of great snorkeling locations along this side of the island. Here are some of the most popular beaches to look for turtles:

  • Black Rock Beach
  • Kapalua Beach
  • Napili Bay Beach
  • Baby Beach
  • Kaanapali Beach
  • Hanakao’o Beach

Where can I find turtles in Kaanapali?

Honalua Bay is a great spot to go snorkeling in Kaanapali and there is a good chance you will find some sea turtles hanging out in the water. Honalua Bay is one of my favorite spots on the island because to get to the beach you have to walk through a tropical forest trail.

Park your car just past the mile 32 marker (you’ll see lots of other cars and a few outhouses so you’ll know you’re at the right spot) and walk through about a half mile trail through a magnificent jungle trail that looks like it came out of the movie “Avatar”.

The forest so gorgeous and you fully expect to see Tarzan swinging past on a vine any moment. The trail leads you down to the beach where you will see dozens of wild chickens roaming about (the whole island seems to have a feral chicken problem. They even hang out at the parking lot at the grocery stores).

sea turtles on the beach in Paia

Sea Turtles in Maui in Kihei, Wailea and Paia

Other areas of the island to spot sea turtles include Keawakapu in Kihei and Ulua or Polo Beach in Wailea. The turtles love these areas because of the small sea caves among the shallow reefs, which allow them to rest in the reefs between trips to the surface.

Up in Paia at Hookipa beach (the wind surfing capital of the world, FYI) we saw the most turtles in one location that I will probably ever see in my life. At beach there was an area where we counted 64 turtles and two monk seals, hanging out and sunning themselves. It was absolutely incredible.

Volunteers from the Maui conservation crew were on hand making sure the tourists like us didn’t get too close. There was one turtle who had fishing line caught around his shell. Two of the volunteers had to head over to him and cut the fishing line off.

Turtle Lagoon at Maui Ocean Center

If you don’t see any sea turtles during your snorkeling or beach adventures there is one spot on the island where you are guaranteed to spot some of these magnificent creatures. The Maui Ocean Center is one of the nicest aquariums I have been to and they have a turtle rehab center called Turtle Lagoon. You can watch green sea turtles swim above and below the water. There are feedings several times per day with a staff member educating the public about the turtle conservation efforts.

FAQ About Sea Turtles in Hawaii

Can you touch turtles in Hawaii?

Hawaiian green sea turtles are federally protected and it’s illegal and harmful to touch or harass them. Feeding or touching turtles in any way is considered a disturbance and therefore illegal.

Is it OK to pick up baby sea turtles?

DO NOT touch baby sea turtles. Something about scrambling over the sand seems to be important in their “imprinting” so they know where to return to lay their eggs. Additionally, they are all endangered/threatened/protected so touching them is going to land you in legal trouble.

Will sea turtles bite you?

They have sharp beaks and extremely strong jaws. A sea turtle bite is unlikely, but it can really hurt! It can also cause a serious bruise or break the skin, or even break bones but you shouldn’t be close enough to them to be bitten anyways.

How close can I get to sea turtles?

There is no law specifying the minimum distance people can approach a sea turtle. However, getting close to these animals may constitute a federal or state violation if the animal is disturbed or if your action has the potential to disturb its natural behavioral patterns. NOAA and DLNR recommend, for your safety and the animals’ protection, that everyone stay at least 10 feet (3 meters) from all sea turtles. If maintaining this distance isn’t possible, keep safety in mind and move away from the animal as carefully as possible, avoiding sudden movements and other actions that might disturb the animal.

Have you spotted and turtles in Maui? Let me know your best spots in the comments!

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