192 Maʻalaea Road, Wailuku, HI, 96793 info@mocmarineinstitute.org Maui Sea Turtle Stranding Hotline: 808-286-2549

Sea Turtles of Hawaiʻi

Sea Turtles of Hawaiʻi

Five of the seven species of sea turtles occur in the waters of Hawaiʻi, but the most commonly seen are green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) or honu in Hawaiian. Although less common, snorkelers and divers may also come across a hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), known as honuʻea or ‘ea in Hawaiian, while exploring Hawaii’s coral reefs.

Green Sea Turtle (click for more information)

Hawksbill Sea Turtle (click for more information)


Hawaiʻi is one of only three places in the world where green sea turtles are known to bask (rest) onshore. As reptiles, the body temperature of sea turtles is influenced by the temperature of their environment. It is believed that green sea turtles bask to conserve energy and to help regulate their body temperature. Sea turtles are protected species; please keep a respectful distance of 10 feet (3 meters) if you come across one basking on the shore.

Sea Turtle Facts

Are sea turtles protected?
Sea turtles are protected by both State and Federal Law.
Federal Protection
Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA). Implemented by NOAA Fisheries and US Fish and Wildlife Service, under the ESA, all sea turtle populations are listed as threatened or endangered.
Hawaiʻi State Law
Implemented by the State of Hawaiʻi Division of Aquatic Resources, DLNR, all sea turtle species are protected under Hawaiʻi Revised Statutes, Chapter 195 D and Hawaiʻi Administrative Rules, 13-124.

What number do we call to report a sick or injured sea turtle?
NOAA Fisheries Statewide Marine Animal Response Hotline: 888-256-9840
MOCMI Sea Turtle Response Team (Maui): 808-286-2549

How do we report a sea turtle that is being harassed or harmed?
NOAA Fisheries Federal Law Enforcement: 800-853-1964
DOCARE State of Hawaiʻi Enforcement: 808-873-3990 (Maui)

Which sea turtle species can be found in Hawaiʻi?
Hawaiʻi is home to five of the seven sea turtle species of sea turtles: greens and hawksbills are found in nearshore waters, and olive ridleys, loggerheads, and leatherbacks in offshore waters. All are protected by state and federal laws.

What do sea turtles eat?
Sea turtles are opportunistic feeders, especially when young. Adult greens shift to a primarily herbivorous diet of seagrasses and algae while hawksbills feed on sponges, algae, and invertebrates.

How large do sea turtles grow?
Hatchlings are only a few inches long. Adult greens can grow up to 450 pounds and four to five feet in length. Adult hawksbills can weigh up to 200 pounds and are three to four feet in length.

How long can sea turtles hold their breath?
Four hours max for adults, but 15-30 minute dives are typical.

How can you tell the difference between male and female sea turtles?
This cannot be determined visually until adulthood (possibly 20 – 30 years old). Males then grow long tails while females retain their short tails.

When is sea turtle nesting season in Hawaiʻi?
Nesting season can begin as early as May, and hatchlings may still be emerging in December. Most greens swim to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to nest but hawksbills and an occasional olive ridley nest in the main Hawaiian Islands. All nests are protected by law.

How many eggs are there per nest?
Green turtles lay an average of 110 eggs per nest, while hawksbills lay an average of 160 eggs. Gestation periods average 60 days depending on temperature (they develop faster in warmer temps.).

How many hatchlings reach adulthood?
It is not known and varies widely by location characteristics and management practices. Researchers predict that approximately 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 10,000 eggs produce hatchlings that survive to adulthood. Sea turtles face many natural and man-made threats. Sharks are their main predator.

What causes a sea turtle to be male or female?
The temperature of the developing eggs is what decides whether the offspring will be male or female. This is called temperature-dependent sex determination, or TSD.
> 87.8°F = female
< 81.86°F = male
81.86°F – 87.8°F = mix