Turtle Canyon Oahu: Snorkeling & Catamaran Trips

turtle canyon snorkeling

I covered snorkeling in Waikiki and its Top 5 beaches in the past. However, if you’re in the neighborhood, it’s definitely worth it to be aware of a hidden gem called “Turtle Canyon”. Waikiki is part of Hawaii’s capital city Honolulu, located on the southeastern part of the island Oahu.

Let me first explain what Turtle Canyon is all about before getting into the snorkel details. Let me just say this: If you’re looking for turtles, this is one of your best bets. And even better: It’s in Hawaii!

turtle canyon map
Imagery @2023 Airbus, CNES / Airbus, CyberCity 3D, Inc. / 3D Travel Inc., Maxar Technologies, U.S. Geological Survey, USGS, Map data @2023 Google

What Is Turtle Canyon Exactly?

Turtle Canyon is a reef near Waikiki beach, about 10-15 minutes out by boat. The reef is located 20-30 feet below the surface of the ocean. Green sea turtles love this area for several reasons:

First of all, the reef is surrounded by loads of fish, especially small wrasses. These wrasses enjoy to eat algae and little parasites that live on the turtle’s shell. People often call it a “cleaning station” for sea turtles. I call it a “massage salon” based on how relaxed and almost hypnotic these turtles float around during the process. They even get their flippers cleaned!

Another reason why sea turtles love the area is because it allows them to search for food. They enjoy to eat algae, seagrass, sponges and invertebrates. The reef also provides areas to rest after enjoying these delicious meals.

Furthermore, the warm water temperature around the reef is just as comfortable for sea turtles as it is for us humans. The average water temperature is somewhere around 76-81°F (which equals to 24-27°C).

How To Get There

Your most obvious choice, and in my opinion best option, is to join a catamaran boat tour. Manakai is a well known company in the area. Their catamaran takes you from Waikiki to Turtle Canyon in about 10-15 minutes and the entire trip takes about 2 hours. They even provide snorkel gear (which is included in the price). You can either join them in the morning or afternoon. The crew knows exactly where the green turtles hang out. They also know where to find octopus, triggerfish, starfish and other interesting marine life.

Snorkeling In Turtle Canyon

Once your captain approaches the reef you’ll be able to easily enter the water by using one of their boat stairs. Everyone wears a snorkel vest, not just for safety but also to recognize each other. You probably see a few sea turtles sticking their heads out to grab some air, but the real magic happens underwater.

Green sea turtles can grow up to 3-4 feet in length, even though some could be smaller. As you’re snorkeling above the reef you’ll soon notice how they kind of “float” above the reef. Sure, 10-20 feet is quite a way down, especially if you’re not able to dive down a little. However, there’s nothing to worry about. Be patient because these turtles need to take a deep breath at the ocean surface regularly. So yes, they’ll get close to you sooner or later. Definitely worth a picture or video in case you snorkel with a GoPro or any other camera.

The water is clear most of the time, especially in summer. There can be days when the water is a little darker, especially when it gets mixed up with sand particles. Most of the time however you won’t be disappointed. Spotting somewhere between 5 and 10 turtles is very likely, especially when it’s sunny. Once you’re done or whenever you feel like having a break, the catamaran should be nearby to do just that. Even from the ship itself you can still observe the reef and the occasional turtle grabbing a breath.

About The Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles

Like I already mentioned, these green sea turtles can grow up to 3-4 feet in length. They are the biggest hard-shelled sea turtle on our entire planet and can live up to 60-70 years. Since they eat seagrass and algae, their cartilage and fat expresses a greenish color. This is what gives them their name. It’s not because of their shells.

Hawaiian green sea turtles are an endangered species. Their population seems to slowly increase, which is a good thing, but it’s a slow process. It’s of big importance to keep your distance and to never touch them (there’s even a fine for that). Don’t feed them and avoid threatening movements. Simply observe quietly so they don’t get scared.

waikiki green sea turtle

Final Thoughts

Snorkeling in Turtle Canyon is mostly about observing the Hawaiian green sea turtles. Yes, there are some other fish to observe, but don’t get your hopes up too high in that regard. Don’t expect a colorful underwater world filled with corals and appealing reef fish.

More Snorkel Gems In Oahu

I mentioned snorkeling in Waikiki already. For travelers heading towards the southeast, snorkeling in Hanauma Bay will most likely be a delight. There are quite a few turtles there as well. If you travel towards the southwest, snorkeling at Electric Beach allows you to observe loads of Hawaiian fish species in warm water. Very close to Electric Beach there’s some beginner friendly snorkeling in Ko Olina. Traveling towards the north of Oahu? One option would be to snorkel Three Tables. You’ll find a lovely white sandy beach with shallow coral reefs to explore. Right next to Three Tables you can also enjoy snorkeling in Sharks Cove.

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