Warm Water and Cool Fish
By Kathy Englert
Winter is a great time to snorkel in South Maui. The calm, protected waters are warm, full of life, and just a short walk from your Maui vacation rental.
For the best snorkeling, pick a calm day with little to no wave action. The water will be clearer and getting in and out of the water will be easier. When out on the water, be mindful of the waves, currents, and water depth. It’s easy to focus on a fish or turtle and loose track of where you are in relation to the shore. Getting tumbled into a shallow rock by a wave is at best, embarrassing and can result in injury.
Most of Kihei’s sandy beaches have rocky outcrops on the north and south ends. Many also have reef formations offshore. These sandy beaches are ideal for entering and exiting the water safely. Most people find the easiest way to begin snorkeling from shore is to wade in from the sandy area and swim out a short distance before putting on fins.
Make sure you wear plenty of sunscreen, especially on your back, neck, and legs. Use a water proof type and if you can find it, there are some sunscreens that are formulated to be safe for coral. It’s also important to not feed or pester the fish, rays, turtles, or dolphins.
It’s especially important to remember to not follow sea turtles while snorkeling. They need to breathe air and won’t come to the surface if they feel threatened. Stressed sea turtles will choose to drown instead of swim to the surface to breathe near swimmers.
Once out on the reef, avoid standing or walking on the coral or sand. Standing on the coral will damage the microscopic creatures that build the coral and stirring up the sand disturbs fish and crustaceans that live in the reef. It is also safer for snorkelers to keep your feet off the bottom, spiny sea urchins and moray eels are common in Maui’s coastal waters. Thousands of people every year get urchin spines in their feet, causing discomfort for up to a month after the injury. Eels have been known to bite visitors to the reefs in defense of their homes, while not venomous these fish have large jaws full of sharp teeth and often a bite will require stitches.
The very best snorkeling in Maui is out at Molokini. Dozens of companies offer snorkel tours of Molokini. Most leave in the morning every day of the week. Some offer additional features, like lunch, sport fishing, or whale watching. Shop around for the right tour for you. The Pacific Whale Foundation offers tours from Maalaea Harbor which include, snorkeling at Molokini, whale watching, and lunch.