Told about in many Hawaiian myths and legends, the Hawaiian green sea turtle, or honu, is a gentle-looking creature with a heart-shaped brown shell and large flippers that help it sail through the island’s waters with ease.
This fascinating animal swims up to 35 miles per hour and is unfortunately listed as an endangered species following years of neglect during the early 20th century.
If catching glimpses of this ancient animal is on your Hawaii vacation to-do list, there are specific rules to keep in mind due to their rarity. Along with the policies you need to observe, we’re sharing some of the spots in Kauai where you can find these ancient turtles and appreciate the sight of them from afar.
Safety Laws to Remember
Whether you see a honu on land or in the water, maintaining a safe distance is essential. These animals are protected under the Endangered Species Act as well as by the state of Hawaii.
When you spot honus, stay at least 10 feet away, and never harass, feed, chase, ride, handle, injure, or hunt them. Holding the animals in captivity is also prohibited under federal and state laws. Violators can be fined up to $100,000 and possibly imprisoned. Show the animals your respect by watching them from afar.
Sea turtles made the Hawaiian islands their home long before people did, but their count has dropped dramatically due to overharvesting. Honu were officially placed on the endangered species list in 1978 and are strictly protected. Here are some guidelines to help keep them safe for future generations to love on:
- Always keep the prescribed distance from a sea turtle. Do not chase, approach, or even attempt to ride a turtle. Fines can set you back $100,000. Not worth it — not to mention cruel.
- If you would like to move closer to a turtle, float or swim towards it as gently as possible.
- Never attempt to feed a sea turtle.
- Loud noises and abrupt movements startle these timid creatures. Appreciate them quietly and be gentle with your movements.
- Always give a sea turtle a clear path, taking care not to block their access to land or sea.
- Avoid following a sea turtle out too far or you could end up in dangerous waters.
- If you encounter a sea turtle that is stranded or injured, report it immediately to a lifeguard or to the Department of Fisheries.
Finding Hawaiian Sea Turtles in Kauai
While it’s possible to see honus sleeping soundly along the coastline, they’re unlikely to venture out to shore when there are crowds. These creatures spend the majority of their lives in water, especially the males, so your chances of spotting one increase when you are also at sea.
Snorkeling, scuba diving, and going on a boat tour are the best ways to see these beautiful animals. When honus are feasting on the algae close to shore, they usually raise their heads out of the water, which makes for an adorable sight when you’re sharing the waters with these gentle animals.
Right across Poipu Beach Park, you’ll find Brennecke’s Beach which is a popular spot for snorkeling. At dusk, a number of green sea turtles come out of the water in this area. They go back to the water at sunrise, so you’re likely to catch a few on a late afternoon swim.
Poipu Beach is also a great area to stay in when you’re trying to spot sea turtles. This area is great for kids because even waders can spot sea turtles hanging in the reef shallows. Snorkellers are also likely to encounter honus while swimming in clear depths.
The bay just east of Kuhio shores is a favorite sea turtle hang out due to the plants that grow among the rocks in this area. Although it’s a little rocky at the entrance to the waters, honus visit this spot all year-round and you’re likely to spot a few on the shores at any time.
Kipu Kai Beach
This beautiful crescent-shaped beach boasts clear waters ideal for seeing and swimming near sea turtles. Despite crystal clear waters, it might be one of the hardest spots to snorkel around in due to its depth. Aside from sea turtles, you can also enjoy being surrounded by a variety of fish underwater.
Straight out in front of Koloa Landing Resort is one of the best places to snorkel with sea turtles in Kauai. Swimming here gives you access to an old boat ramp leading to a healthy reef inhabited by lots of fish and turtles. Guests can grab snorkel gear from the resort or get hooked up with a local guide.
The turquoise waters off Lawai Beach just next to the Beach House restaurant offer a picturesque spot to hang out with Hawaiian sea turtles. You can jump into the waters right by the road! The beach also usually has shallow waters, making it safe for all types of swimmers.
This is a heritage hike in Kauai which leads to a viewpoint of a remote beach. The scenery here is amazing and you’re sure to spot many sea turtles from a distance. This is a sandy hike that will require more preparation than other spots featured on this list, so be sure to ready yourself with the basics of hiking in Kauai.
True to its name, this hidden gem by Queen’s Bath is a spot that honus love to eat and lounge in. It’s considered the best place to see Kauai’s famed turtles. With fine sand and lots of algae, it truly makes a lovely resting point for turtles who have been out in the water all day.
Where the main highway ends, this gorgeous beach begins. Snorkelers can enjoy a vast stretch of ocean in this area, perfect for seeking sea turtles. Ke’e is known as one of the most visited beaches in Kauai, so get there early if you want to get your group a good spot.
We can’t leave behind one of the best snorkeling spots in the Hawaiian Islands! Tunnels Beach is a prime spot to make friends with countless fish and the occasional wandering honus. If you’re lucky, you can also spot Hawaiian monk seals which frequently visit the area.
Meet Hawaii’s Cute Sea Turtles
Although there are many spots to check out if you’re planning to get a glimpse of Hawaiian sea turtles, seeing them in real life is still a pretty special experience due to their adorable nature and rarity. As such, we hope you get to encounter honus on your trip to Kauai. They’re quite the island’s darlings.
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