Oahu is an awesome island for spotting turtles in their natural habitat. This quick guide will cover five of the species you might see on your adventures whether you’re snorkeling, diving, boating, or lucky enough to spot one hanging out near the beach.
1 – Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas)
The most famous of Hawaiian turtles! These gentle creatures (known around Hawaii as “honu”) are one of the only sea turtles that maintain an herbivorous diet, grazing on seagrasses and algae to sustain their massive bulk. These gentle creatures regularly reach between 200-400lbs, and the heaviest green sea turtle ever found weighed in at an impressive 872lbs.
Green sea turtles have a huge personality, and are among the friendliest and most curious residents of Oahu. They’ll often drift close enough that divers can get a cool photo opportunity. But as with all Hawaiian marine life, it’s important not to touch or pursue them. Watch this video to see the Green Sear Turtle in action!
2 – Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricate, “Honu’ea”)
Hawksbills are critically endangered and extremely rare seeing one would be fantastically lucky indeed. During the nesting season when these turtles lay their eggs on the beaches of Oahu, you can be sure to find groups of dedicated volunteers guarding the eggs around the clock. These turtles are a pretty big deal!
They forage in sea grasses and algal beds, inhabiting deeper and deeper habitats as they age. In many areas, they help to promote healthy reef development by eating sponges that would otherwise out-compete the coral for reef space. They use their distinctive beak to forage and can grow up to 200lbs.
3 – Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea)
These living dinosaurs are easy to identify, equipped with a tough leathery back instead of a hard shell. Leatherbacks are also the largest turtle species on the planet: they can grow up to 8ft long and can weigh up to 2000lbs! They also dive deeper than any other turtle, reaching depths of up to 4,200ft.
Leatherbacks do not usually nest on the beaches of Oahu but they do forage in the deeper waters surrounding the area. Divers love them because they eat those troublesome jellyfish that plague snorkelers and swimmers. Despite their mammoth size, these turtles are active throughout the day and only spend about 0.1% of the day resting.
4 – Loggerhead (Caretta caretta)
Loggerheads are uniquely beautiful. Their skin can range from white to pale yellow to brown, and the shell is usually a deep reddish-brown. They’re omnivores but have exceptionally powerful jaws to take on tough prey like whelks and conch, but they’ll eat anything from gastropods to sea anemones.
These turtles can grow to 3ft in length and rarely grow to over 250lbs but their gorgeous coloration ensures they’re impossible to miss. The females nest from April to September and can lay up to 5 nests a season.
5 – Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea)
The olive ridley sea turtle is one of the smaller species of turtles found in the waters of Hawaii they rarely grow much heavier than 100lbs, usually remaining less than 2ft in length. Their shells start gray but turn olive as they grow into adults.
The olive ridley (along with the leatherback and loggerhead) prefers to spend time in deep offshore waters. So while you may be able to see some green sea turtles snorkeling, scuba is your best bet for serious turtle sightseeing. Take some time to meet the LOS team to learn more about trying scuba as a first-timer – especially in Hawaii!
Once you get a chance to swim with turtles, you’re certain to fall in love. Do your part to conserve the turtle populations of Oahu by reporting any sightings of rare, injured, or nesting turtles when you see them. Avoid littering and report any litter or turtle hazards you find.
Whether you’re enjoying turtles from the beach, through a scuba mask, or from a boat, the experience will be unforgettable. Don’t forget to take pictures to share the magic of Oahu’s turtles with your friends back home!
Turtles of Oahu: A Quick Guide for Travelers Photo Gallery
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