Honu is a Green Sea Turtle

Honu is the Hawaiian word for green sea turtle. From the balcony of a Maui apartment, we spent hours watching up to four turtles eat algae from submerged rocks close to shore, seeing if we could spot them and waiting for them to surface and show themselves. Similar to what you do on a safari, except in Hawaii. Watching wildlife is like a treasure hunt — you don’t know if you’ll find what you’re looking for, but you can increase your chances by knowing what to look for (understanding the animal’s behavior, in the case of wildlife).

sea turtle with front feet visible
sea turtle with front feet visible
turtle looking
turtle looking

Turtles breathe air. They take only a second or two to stick their head above water, exhale, and inhale. Then they swim for a few minutes until they need another breathe.  They slowly rise to the surface before taking a breath.

The photo below shows the serrated lower jaw, where the sun shines into the turtle’s mouth.

sea turtle head
sea turtle head

The photos were taken with an APS-C camera and a telephoto lens at 400 mm, so the effective focal length is 640 mm. Since the turtle surfaces for only a second or two, you have to focus and set the exposure before the turtle sticks its head up. Time of day is important. There’s more light in the middle of the day, except that sunlight reflecting off the water surface produces glare. I brought a circular polarizing filter to reduce the glare off the water, but I did something stupid and broke the filter before I could use it.

While snorkeling at the Black Rock at Kaanapali, a large turtle with a 3′ long shell swam under us effortlessly. We tried to follow but couldn’t keep up with the turtle for long.


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I enjoy travel, art, food, photography, nature, California native plants, history, and yoga. I am a retired software engineer. The gravatar is a Nuttall's woodpecker that visited our backyard.

3 thoughts on “Honu is a Green Sea Turtle”

  1. Great pictures! About five years ago, I saw sea turtles off of our snorkeling excursion boat returning to Maalea Bay in Maui. I’ve been traveling to Maui since I was a child and it was the only time that I have seen wild sea turtles.


    1. Thank you. Yes, we’ve had the same experience seldom seeing turtles in Maui. This year we visited Maui to see the humpback whales, so we rented an ocean-front apartment in Kahana to try to see whales, and we lucked into these turtles! There’s a reef close to shore at this part of Kahana, and turtles hang out at the reef eating the algae growing on the rocks. We wound up spending hours looking at whales and turtles from our balcony and having a great time.


      1. I have a friend who is a veterinarian and one of her goals is to see a wild sea turtle. She has been on a bunch of vacations, including Maui and some place in a Caribbean that all but guaranteed turtles…so far, it has not happened! I am going to share your post with her!


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