What You Will See When Snorkeling
at Turtle Town Maui

Turtle Town is situated off the coast of the Makena/Wailea area of South Maui. Although this Maui snorkel site is best reached by boat, it also fronts the Makena Beach & Golf Resort. Ideal for snorkelers, the ocean is bountiful with Hawaiian green sea turtles and tropical fish varieties.

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Snorkeling is the most in-demand and popular ocean activity for visitors looking for adventure on a Maui vacation. Get excited about Maui vacation planning, and learn about what you’ll see while snorkeling at Maui’s Turtle Town.


Where is Maui's Turtle Town?

Before we discuss the beautiful marine life seen while snorkeling at Turtle Town, let’s discuss the location itself. Turtle Town’s official name is Maluaka Beach. It’s located just south of Wailea at the end of Makena Road.

This area allows for clear underwater visibility without strong trade winds while viewing Maui’s marine life. This Maui snorkel sport also boasts a sandy bottom, so on the clearest days, you can also see underwater lava fingers creeping from the shoreline to the deep blue.

Local Tip: Book a morning snorkel tour to Molokini and Turtle Town. The Makena area of South Maui tends to have an overcast afternoon, making snorkel visibility a little cloudy in the late afternoons.

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See Hawaii's Sea Turtles
at Maui's Turtle Town

This may be an obvious statement, but Turtle Town is really a turtle town! Guests will see Hawaiian green sea turtles in their natural habitat, sunbathing on the shoreline and swimming in the clear ocean. Other turtles that frolic in Maui’s Turtle Town are the Hawksbill, Leatherback, Olive Ridley, and Loggerhead. Hawaiian green sea turtles and the Hawksbill are the most commonly spotted, but guests will have a rare chance to see some of the others if they keep their eyes peeled.

Hawaiian green sea turtles: Maui’s most commonly seen turtles are herbivores that feed on marine plants near the shoreline. They are quite large and beautiful, can grow up to 4 feet long, and can weigh up to 400 lbs. Wow!

Hawksbill Turtles: Also commonly seen on Maui, these guys are named for their bird-like snouts. They have long and narrow beaks and like to eat sea invertebrates and sea sponges. Hawksbill turtles like to snuggle into rocky caves and can grow up to 3 feet long, weighing up to approximately 200 lbs.

Leatherback Turtles: It’s rare to see Leatherback turtles while snorkeling on Maui because they are usually deep-water swimmers. It’s not impossible to see them while snorkeling, but it’s rare. They are native to Hawaii and like to remain off-shore, eating invertebrates and jellyfish. Leatherback turtles are HUGE! These guys can grow up to 8 feet long and weigh 2,000 lbs.

Olive Ridley Turtles: Olive Ridleys like to travel and hang out in groups. They are a smaller turtle species, growing about 2 feet in length and weighing less than 100 lbs. Olive Ridleys are the most commonly seen turtles in the world, and they like to lay their eggs on the beach all at once, sometimes in the thousands. Olive Ridleys are small but have a big appetite for fish and sea invertebrates.

Loggerhead Turtles: It’s highly uncommon to see Loggerheads while snorkeling on Maui, but they are in Hawaiian waters. These guys are named after their big heads that host some powerful jaws. Loggerheads love coastal waters because they like to feed and crunch on large mollusks like conchs. Although they pack a punch, Loggerheads are a smaller turtle species growing about 3 feet long and weighing 150 lbs.

Side note: If you see any turtles on Maui, whether on the shoreline or in the ocean, DO NOT try to touch them or feed them. It is illegal to touch or harass Hawaii’s sea turtles as they are protected by the EPA’s Endangered Species Act of 1978. View them from a distance and with respect.

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at Maui's Turtle Town

Tropical Fish Seen at Maui's Turtle Town

While snorkeling at Maui’s Turtle Town, you’ll notice that the underwater world is a living, thriving, and delicate ecosystem. Approximately 23% of the species found in Hawaiian waters are endemic, and there are about 680 tropical fish species alone. This number does not include invertebrates, corals, and other marine animals like turtles, dolphins, octopuses, and whales.

Before snorkeling on Maui, take some time to do some research on tropical fish and marine life so that you’ll be better able to spot some of these magical water dwellers.

The most popularly seen tropical fishes at Turtle Town are the Hawaiian Cleaner Wrasse (they like to clean turtle shells), colorful parrot fish, triggerfish, Hawaii’s State Fish Humuhumunukunukuapua’a (also a triggerfish), striped pufferfish, Moorish Idol, Raccoon Butterflyfish, Yellowtail Coris Wrasse, Yellow Tang, and Trumpetfish.

Here’s a breakdown of other tropical fish and invertebrates varieties found in Maui’s waters:

Tropical Fish: Trumpetfish, Cornetfish, Needlefish, Cardinalfish, Damselfish, Chubs, Cornetfish, Frogfish, Goatfish, Hawkfish, Scorpionfish, Hawaiian Lionfish (Turkeyfish), and Sea Horses

Butterfly Fish: Ornate, Threadfin, Multiband, Longnose, Saddleback, Reticulated, Fourspot, Teardrop, and Raccoon

Parrotfish: Female & Male (there is a difference!)

Triggerfish: Picasso, Lei, Reef (Humuhumunukunukuapua’a), Pinktail, Black and Checkerboard

Surgeonfish: Spotted Goldring, Orange band, Yellow Tang, Sailfin Tang, and Eyestripe

Wrasses: Yellowtail, Hawaiian Cleaner, Saddle, and Male Bird

Pufferfish: Spotted Toby/Trunkfish, Porcupine, Boxfish, and Tobies

Invertebrates: Sea Cucumber, Sponges, Lobster, Jellies, Crabs, and other Shelled Invertebrates varieties

Octopuses: Hawaiian Day Octopus, Hawaiian Night Octopus

Shrimps: Banded Coral Shrimp, Harlequin Shrimp

Sea Urchin: Banded Sea Urchin, Collector Urchin, Purple Black Urchin, Red Pencil Sea Urchin, Pincushion, and Slate Pencil

Sea Stars: Brittle Star, Crown of Thorns

Eels: Spotted Moray Eel, Dragon Moray, Whitemouth, Snowflake, and Zebra

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Which Marine Animals Can
You See at Turtle Town?

Besides viewing tropical fish at Turtle Town, guests have a chance to see some of Maui’s most famous residents: dolphins, rays, seals, and whales.

Your chances of seeing marine life while snorkeling at Turtle Town are significantly increased if you’re onboard a Maui snorkel tour. On a top-rated Maui snorkel tour, guests are guided by a professional captain and crew. With their extensive knowledge of Maui’s oceans and best snorkel spots, they can direct the tour to the optimal sites for viewing Maui marine life.

During Maui’s whale watching season, snorkel tours are effectively a hybrid of snorkeling and whale watching tours. On board a catamaran, guests can cruise the blue ocean and see what’s happening on the ocean’s surface.

Spinner dolphins travel and skip through the ocean in pods and can be easily spotted. The curious Spinner dolphins also like to cozy up to Humpback Whales during their annual winter migration to Hawaiian waters. It’s quite a sight to see!

One of the most incredible and unique things to see aboard a Maui snorkel tour is the rare glimpse of baby Humpbacks frolicking and learning to swim on the ocean surface.

Frequently Seen Maui Marine Mammals:

Rays: Manta Rays and Spotted Eagle Ray
Dolphins: Spinner and Bottlenose
Seals: Hawaiian Monk Seals
Whales: North Pacific humpback whale

Side Note: As with the Hawaiian green sea turtles, many conservation laws and regulations protect Maui’s Marine life species. Do not touch these animals or try to feed them. Just watch in wonderment and enjoy the ride!

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Learn More About Maui's Coral Reef Recovery Projects

Climate change, environmental threats, and tourist footprint do a lot of damage to Maui and Hawaii’s delicate coral reef systems.

While snorkeling on Maui, never step on the reef. Wear reef-safe sunscreen and remember that Hawaii’s oceans are not a theme park; they are a living and breathing ecosystem that not only deserves but needs ongoing protection.

Various organizations and educational institutions work very hard to protect Hawaii’s reefs. The University of Hawaii and the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council (MNMRC) are two of the most notable.

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Maui Nui Marine Resource Council (MNMRC)

Maui Nui Marine Resource Council (MNMRC) tends to the threats to Hawaii’s reefs and the nearshore ocean ecosystems through the local community, partnerships, and education. With the awareness that Maui County’s reefs are facing many threats, MNMRC started the Maui Coral Reef Recovery Team in 2010. This team comprises 16 of Hawaii’s chief coral reef scientists, management specialists, and community members.

Through outreach, the council is working to educate visitors and residents about the dangers that many popular sunscreen products pose to Maui’s coral reefs. They also are working on the Olowalu Biomarker Research Project to help restore this ancient coral reef site. Dr. Bob Richmond, director of UH Manoa Kewalo Marine Lab, is conducting research alongside Dr. Kaho Tisthammer and several Kewalo Lab graduates.

Maui Nui Marine Resource Council promotes clean ocean water through many projects, including the Hui O Ka Wai Water Quality Testing Program. The Department of Health has a minimal budget and insufficient human resources to routinely test the ocean water quality at Maui’s 81 sites. This program is a community-based program with nearly 50 volunteers who collect the necessary information at more than 48 locations on Maui’s shores.

MNMRC also is working with builders and developers to better manage their practices that affect the marine environment. They are dedicated and passionate about pioneering new ways to help recover Maui’s coral reefs.

MNMRC encourages visitors to volunteer in Maui’s coral reef recovery programs. If you’re interested in volunteering on vacation or making a donation, visit them online.

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There is so much vibrant marine life at Turtle Town that it truly must be seen to be believed. We look forward to welcoming you aboard one of our vessels for an unforgettable snorkel trip soon!

Alexandra Mitchell

Alexandra is a marketing professional with a passion for writing about travel to the Hawaiian Islands, vacation rentals, and luxury real estate. She exposes readers to glimpses of 'Old Hawaii,' new destinations to explore, local events, and all the best things to do on Maui.