Meet Hawai’i’s Giant Sea TurtlesKaua‘i

It’s as common to get a look at Hawai‘i’s GIANT GREEN SEA TURTLES as it is rare to come across the nearly extinct HAWKSBILL SEA TURTLE. Either way, both species are a treat to see, and both happen to frequent the waters of the Garden Isle.

Green sea turtles aren’t shy. Expect to see them on ocean excursions, or watch for them feeding on seaweed that grows on rocks in shallow areas. Called honu in Hawaiian, the turtles are referred to as green not for the color of the algae growing on their backs, but for the color of their meat.

While the green sea turtle population has made a steady comeback in recent years, taking it off the endangered species list (they are still considered threatened, however), the Hawaiian hawksbill population is estimated at fewer than 30 nesting turtles.

The hawksbill turtle is known for its beautiful tortoise shell, which was exploited for many years by the fashion industry and is why hawksbill populations are so sparse. Named for its sharp, beaklike mouth, a hawksbill can weigh up to 270 pounds, much smaller than the hulking green sea turtle, which sometimes weighs in at 400 pounds.

Look, but DON’T TOUCH. The ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT protects both the hawksbill and green sea turtle, so it’s against the law to harass them in any way. If you see one when you’re snorkeling, give it 10-15 feet of space and enough room to surface and breathe.