The Hawaiian islands are home to endless native species of plants and animals, from exquisite flowers to delicious fruits to colorful animals! Snorkeling is a fantastic way to experience some of the under the sea creatures that are native to the islands, and while on Maui, one animal visitors may see floating through the waters is the Hawaiian green sea turtle! Native to Hawaii, the Hawaiian name for these gentle critters is “honu”. Of the seven types of sea turtles in Hawaii, the Hawaiian green sea turtle is the most common, seen by snorkelers gliding through the crystal waters and by beach goers, as these turtles are often seen basking along to beach for a rest. A truly magical sight to see under or above the ocean!
The Hawaiian green sea turtle is the largest hard shell turtle in the world! With a length of up to four feet and weighing in over 300 pounds, these giants have a carapace (upper shell) that ranges in colors of brown, yellow and black. The plastron (under shell) of these animals is a light yellowish color and the body is equipped with paddle like flippers and a short snout with an unhooked beak, unlike some other species of sea turtle possessing a hooked beak. The Hawaiian green sea turtle is the only herbivorous species of sea turtle with a diet of algae and seagrass. This diet turns the fat layer of the body green, but provides a slow growth rack due to a low nutritional value. These turtles feed by trimming only the top of seagrass and other plants, which helps improve the health and growth of the plants, in turn helping other animals living and feeding on the greenery. The neck of these creatures can not be pulled into the shell, though some species of turtle do have that ability. Sea turtles have been on the earth for over 150 million years, and this particular species has a lifespan of about 80 years. Navigating using wave directions, sun light and temperature, the Hawaiian green sea turtle typically swims at rates of about one to two miles per hour, however can reach speeds up to 20 miles per hour! Though the turtle has excellent eye sight underwater, nearsightedness is in full affect above water and on land. These animals can stay under water for hours, based on the size of the turtle as the lungs are two thirds as long as the upper shell. The longest recorded time underwater was five hours! Imagine that!
These gentle giants reach sexual maturity at an age of around 20 years, at which time the males grow a long, thickened tail. The females will mate every two years, and around 90% of the females will travel nearly 600 miles to another island to lay the eggs! After up to two months of travel, the female reaches shores and digs nest chambers in the sand. Each nest chamber will contain about 75 to 100 eggs, all about the size of a ping pong ball, and there may be as many 6 nests in total per turtle! Eggs are laid in the summer months and the process takes an average of two hours. After about two months in the nest, the eggs are ready to hatch! The sex of the hatchlings is based upon the temperature of the sand, cooler temperatures will bring more male baby turtles. The first years of life for these baby animals are known as “the lost years”, as it is estimated that only one out of every 5,000 hatchlings will survive to reach full adulthood. The black and white babies that do survive the fight from nest to ocean will reach home after 5 to ten years. When a turtle has reached sexual maturity and is ready to reproduce, the female will travel back to the nesting sight of its own birth!
Through Hawaiian history, the Hawaiian green sea turtle was thought to be the property of chiefs, often raised in ponds. The meat of the animal was consumed, while bones were used as fish hooks and the shells used as containers. Though some Hawaiians saw the animals as family deities, worshipping and protecting the turtle. Though today Federal Law in all of the United States protects sea turtles, which has helped the population in the Hawaiian islands to increase. Physical contact with these animals is prohibited, and it is recommended to stay a minimum of 15 feet away from the animal. The Hawaiian green sea turtle is the only species of sea turtle in Hawaii to bask on the beaches, sometimes for two to three days, to rest, warm in the sun and avoid predators. In the waters, these turtles face risks of boat strikes, and can mistake pollution for food, becoming entangled and unable to surface. Because the sea turtle needs to surface to breathe, it is vital to not swim above a turtle or too close, as fear of humans may cause the turtle not to surface and eventually drown. The gentle giants also face the dangers of disease, as many are afflicted with lethal tumor growths acquired by leaches, which can affect the lungs, stomach and kidneys. Though the biggest threats to sea turtles are humans and sharks!
While visiting Maui, sightings of the Hawaiian green sea turtle are sure to make the trip all the more special! This species is listed as “threatened” on the endangered species list, so showing respect and awareness is important! A visit to Turtle Town in Makena, on the south side of the island, provides one of the best opportunities to see these animals as the area is sheltered from high winds and has a calmer water condition. A snorkeling trip through the seas may show the turtle in all of the natural glory! Or a day spent at the Maui Ocean Center, for an up close view at these amazing creatures! Go Rent A Car Maui has vans, trucks, suv’s and sedans for all of the turtle seeking adventures, whether it be to Turtle Town, the Maui Ocean Center or a beach day of snorkeling!