Hawaii Ocean Safaris: Honolulu’s Marine Life, But Not As You Know It

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Tail High: Maui’s Molokini Crater, or lizard tail, is the subject of Hawaiian legends. Photo / Getty Images

Hawaii’s seas are teeming with life, but unfortunately it’s mostly patterned swimsuits, snorkels, and fins.

If you are looking for a glimpse of the aquatic life and the finest fish exhibits in the Pacific, take a deep dive into these marine reserves.

Maui’s Molokini crater: like snorkeling in a packed aquarium

According to Hawaiian legend, Maui’s Molokini Crater is the tail of a lizard whose body was cut in half by the goddess Pele. I imagine that in the future the story will be that this half-submerged caldera was designed by the Hawaii Tourism Authority to look like a set of arms wide open towards Maalaea Bay, welcoming ships. full of tourists. Nearly half a million visitors snorkel and scuba dive in the crater each year, drawn to the promise of calm, crystal-clear waters with visibility often exceeding 150 feet. Once used for the practice of bombs by the United States military, this marine life conservation district of Hawaii is now home to some 250 species of fish and 38 species of coral. Snorkeling there, sheltered from the wind and waves, you feel like you are in an aquarium, even though it is filled with other observers.

Hawaii's oceans are teeming with life.  Photo / Getty Images
Hawaii’s oceans are teeming with life. Photo / Getty Images

At least a half-dozen boats, some with up to 140 passengers, dock off the crescent-shaped crater. For every rainbow-colored parrotfish that eats cauliflower coral, there’s at least one mushy-skinned diver wrapped in a yellow flotation belt that distracts attention from the peace beneath. the sea.

The conservation district is now home to some 250 species of fish and 38 species of coral.  Photo / Getty Images
The conservation district is now home to some 250 species of fish and 38 species of coral. Photo / Getty Images

If you go, avoid boats that look like floating waterparks – I would recommend Sail Maui’s Paragon II, which limits trips to 38 guests – so you’ll have fewer divers near you in the water. Go during whale season (December through May) and you may even see some big fish during the 2 1/2 mile windy boat ride.

Tours to Molokini Crater with Sail Maui cost $ 125 for adults; 808-495-0879; sailmaui.com

Fish geeks looking for more context should book a snorkeling trip to Honolua Bay.  Photo / Getty Images
Fish geeks looking for more context should book a snorkeling trip to Honolua Bay. Photo / Getty Images

Puu Kekaa and Honolua Bay: Room to roam

For a snorkeling experience that looks more like a “blue planet” than “aquatic life,” rent gear and head to Puu Kekaa on the western part of the island. This lava headland, also known as Black Rock, sits at the north end of famous Kaanapali Beach, across from the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa. Entrance from the shore is easy, but it’s a do-it-yourself snorkeling experience, so check the safety signs on the beach. Get there early, before the afternoon trade winds lift, and snorkel along the edge of the rock. You will reach a vertical wall about 9 meters deep, where you will likely see sea turtles, spotted eagle rays and a sandy bottom covered with starfish and sea urchins. In season, you can also let yourself be lulled by the song of humpback whales.

Blue Planet: meeting a sea turtle is even more special one-on-one.  Photo / John Duarte, Getty Images
Blue Planet: meeting a sea turtle is even more special one-on-one. Photo / John Duarte, Getty Images

Fish lovers looking for more context can book a snorkeling trip to Honolua Bay. (I would recommend the Pacific Whale Foundation’s Eco Charters.) Located on the northwest side of the island, the bay is part of the Honolua-Mokuleia Marine Life Conservation District and is dense with healthy corals and schools. of reef fish. The high, rocky cliffs keep the waters soft and clear most of the year (winter conditions are normally too harsh for boats and snorkelers) and are ideal for novice divers.

An encounter with a sea turtle is all the more special as it is one-on-one, which is often the case here and at Black Rock (in fact, turtles are not found at Molokini Crater); remember to keep the recommended buffer zone of 6-10 feet around protected creatures.

Tours with the Pacific Whale Foundation cost $ 125 for adults; 800-942-5311; pacificwhale.org

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