Snorkeling at Molokini Crater, Maui - November 2011

It was my first day on Maui and we were up bright and early for the drive from West Maui to South Maui (near Kihei). At 7:30 am we'd take the Seafire out to the Molokini volcanic crater for snorkeling and then stop at "Turtle Town" on the way back to the dock. Here's where we caught the boat:

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At the outset, the crew said it was a bit of a windy day - "We never see white caps like this in the early morning" - and we might not make it to Molokini but there's an alternate spot nearby they'd switch to if the water was too rough. A couple of people backed out but this was our only day together so we took some Dramamine and chanced it. Our boat had about 20 people on board including the 3-person crew.

I'd never been snorkeling before so didn't know what to expect but the crew was great at fitting us with the proper equipment during the 15-minute ride to the crater and giving us some tips. Molokini is a partially sunken volcanic crater and is one of the top ten dive spots in the world. More than 250 species of tropical fish can be found there!

Once at the crater to got in the water and explored for a good 30 or 40 minutes. We were the only boat there. It was surreal because the water is so clear there, even with the wind, that you were sometimes looking at coral 50 feet down yet it seemed almost close enough to touch. There were many, many brightly colored fish and huge urchins and I even saw a Moray Eel for a second before it ducked into a small cave.

There was so much activity it was hard to focus on one thing and I knew I could stay in the water all day looking at these colorful and beautiful creatures.

At first, it was strange trying to breathe under water and I kept getting water in my snorkel but one of the crew members came and fixed my valve. She also reminded me not to put my head straight down - but more forward-looking - so that the snorkel wouldn't go underwater. We were even using floating noodles so it wasn't necessary to know how to swim!

I had this underwater 35 mm camera and was just clicking away having no idea what I might catch on film. I got some pretty nice shots!

Black Triggerfish (Melichthys niger)

Yellow Tang (Zebrasoma flavescens), some urchins and plenty of coral!

Red Pencil Urchins (Heterocentrotus mammillatus) and more coral!
After leaving the crater, we stopped to check out a sunken ship (St. Anthony's wreck which was intentionally sunk in 1997 as an artificial reef). Not much to see while snorkeling since the ship is about 100 feet down, but I'm sure diving would be great. Check out these photos.

After that we headed to "Turtle Town" which is a kind of cleaning station for green sea turtles. The turtles come and sit on the reef while fish clean them. Pretty cool to watch! I'd never seen a sea turtle before but this is what I was most excited to see. I feel I may have been one in a past life or something!

Kidding, but really, they are beautiful, graceful creatures. We saw 5 or 6 being cleaned by fish and some swam so close to us we had to try and back away. Although the green sea turtles in Hawaiian are no longer on the endangered species list, they are still protected and coming closer than 5 feet can result in a $5,000 fine. 

I took these photos with my regular camera wrapped in a waterproof pouch so they're not great, but you get the idea.

Green turtle (Chelonia mydas)

You can just make out two turtles in the upper right and on the left-hand one you can see some fish cleaning it!

And, as if that wasn't enough excitement for the day, once we got back on shore we had some lunch and headed to the Ahihi-Kina'u Natural Area Preserve farther south in Maui. 

You can check out more photos from my trip to Maui here.