During our tours of the Na Pali Coast we take time for our guests to get into the water and snorkel around one of the beautiful Kauai reefs. Among many other animals, one that you will often see is the Honu, or in English, the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle. These sea creatures like to hang out around the reefs near the shore, popping their head above water from time to time to come up for air and to say hello.
Honu are a very significant animal to Hawaiian culture. Long ago, the legend states that they were the original guides showing the ancient Polynesians the way to get to the Hawaiian islands. They swim great distances as they migrate through the tropical waters.
On the Big Island, there is an old legend of Kauila, a mythical Honu who was born in a spring in the black sand near Punalu’u. Legend says that she would keep an eye on the local keiki, and even transform herself into a little girl from time to time to play amongst them.
The Honu is a symbol of both wisdom and good luck. As the only native reptile to Hawaii, they are considered to be an Aumakua, or guardian spirit. These creatures are over 150 million years old, and so it is fair to respect their experience and ability to survive while so many other animals have come and gone, and humanity is just a flash in time in comparison.
When you see a green sea turtle in the water, it is acceptable to swim alongside them, but it is important to not touch them or make them feel threatened. Putting a turtle under stress is very harmful – normally they can hold their breath for hours, but when under a stressful situation that time comes down to a few minutes. Many honu are known to have drowned under these circumstances. So as long as you observe from a distance, you will be fine.
Sadly, these beautiful animals are endangered. Major development in Hawaii over the past few decades has limited their habitat. They are also the target of poachers who care little about their significance to the culture. This means that it is even more important to respect these animals from a safe distance, and to malama (care for) the aina (land) and kai (ocean) that they call home.
But if you show respect to the Honu, you will find a deep appreciation for these old and powerful animals that hold so much importance to the Hawaiian people. But don’t take our word for it, come see for yourself on one of our tours as we explore the Na Pali Coast and give you the opportunity to swim amongst them with a little bit of luck.
Please Keep in mind that these are wild animals, so we cannot guarantee a sighting.