HONU HALE - Educational Material

Honu - Hawaiian Turtle
VM Maui

The Oaks family would like to welcome you to Maui and to our beautiful Island home which we affectionately call Honu Hale. Honu is the Hawaiian word for green sea turtle and Hale is the Hawaiian word for home. We call our home Honu Hale because you can see these beautiful and once endangered sea turtles on a daily basis from our oceanfront deck.


When snorkeling in our waters, you will likely be graced by the presence of the Hawaiian Honu, or Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas). When hypnotized by their sleepy doe-eyes, take note. You are looking back 150 million years in time into the lens of a reptilian survivor from the age of dinosaurs.

The Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle is the only indigenous reptile found in Hawaii. For Hawaiians then and now, the Honu represents the navigator, and the eternal link between man, the land, and the sea. One Hawaiian legend tells of a large Honu, Kauila, who would transform into a human girl and serve as protector of the Keiki (children) playing along the shore of Punalu’u Beach.

Since listed as a “threatened” species in 1978, the Green Sea Turtle population has made a comeback. Before protection, their decline in numbers came primarily from overfishing. Today the fishing has nearly ceased, but from the moment the eggs are laid, the baby Honu must survive predation by birds, animals, and the effect of environmental hazards. If they make it to the sea, the dangers are still abundant; sharks, marine debris, tainted algae, and propellers.

After 25 years of basking on lava, floating along coastal tidepools, and munching on their diet of algae or Limu, the Honu reaches maturity at about 200 pounds. The Honu then begin the arduous, 800-mile journey to the North Western Hawaiian Islands to mate. If they survive this migration, Honu may live up to 100 years, however, their exact lifespan is unknown.

To swim with a turtle is magic. To watch them bask in the sun is calming. During your encounters, kindly remember to keep your distance so the Honu remain undisturbed. Enjoy the gentle grace of the Honu who have inhabited this place long before humans.

Now, here are some important facts you need to know about Maui.

  1. Maui is the second youngest of the Hawaiian Islands. It was created by a volcano almost 1.3 million years ago. It’s also the second largest of the four main Hawaiian Islands and has a population of about 144,000 people.
  2.  Maui is often referred to as the Valley Isle. This is because Maui is actually made up of two volcanoes with a bridge of flat land between them. Maui used to be one big island, but as sea levels have risen the present-day geography has emerged, and now the valley that gives the island its nickname is all that remains.


We invite you to explore Maui’s coral reefs – with care and respect, for your safety and the protection of these diverse and beautiful marine ecosystems.

As you snorkel or dive here, you will encounter rare and unique marine life. Because Hawaii is surrounded by thousands of miles of ocean, the species that found their way here evolved in isolation. As a result, about 25% of our corals, fish, and marine algae are endemic, found nowhere else on earth.

Coral reefs are valuable for many reasons: in addition to their beauty and diversity of life, they support about 25 percent of Hawaii’s marine life. Corals also protect our shorelines and beaches from storm surges, big waves, erosion, and storms. Unfortunately, coral reefs are among the most threatened ecosystems on the planet due to climate change, warming oceans, ocean acidification, and pollution. Help our reefs survive by taking care when you snorkel, swim, dive, paddle, or surf near coral.


Coral reefs may look like rock but they are actually living animals. They are formed by compact colonies of tiny soft-bodied animals known as coral polyps. Coral polyps have tiny tentacle-like arms that extend to sweep food into their mouths. Each polyp secretes a hard outer skeleton of limestone (calcium carbonate) that either attaches to rock or to the dead skeletons of other coral polyps. Over time, these limestone skeletons build up and create the hard structure of the reef. Some of Hawaii’s local coral reefs are hundreds of years old.


Please remember that the coral polyps are delicate. Each polyp is no thicker than a nickel, and they can be crushed and killed when you stand or walk upon them. Once a polyp dies, it can no longer build the reef. If the entire colony perishes, the reef structure breaks down and disappears.

  • If you must stand, do so only on sand.
  • Keep your fins up — a flotation device helps.
  • Avoid standing, walking upon, or kicking coral.
  • Never touch corals. They are sharp and can cut you.
  • Viruses, bacteria, and stinging cells living within the corals can also cause serious infections. If you are cut by coral, leave the water immediately and care for your wound.

Find out How to Treat Coral Cuts


Most corals obtain energy from beneficial algae called zooxanthellae (pronounced zo-UH-zan-thuh-lay) that live within their bodies. The algae produce energy from sunlight; this energy helps nourish the corals. The algae also give corals their color. Corals can become stressed by warming ocean water, too much freshwater, sedimentation, or pollution. When this stress occurs, the beneficial algae leave the coral tissues. This causes the corals to turn white, which is known as coral bleaching. Corals can survive without the algae (and the energy it produces) temporarily, but eventually, the corals die.


Researchers have found that common sunscreen chemicals can harm or kill corals, even in small concentrations. Hawaii’s sunscreen law, which bans products containing reef-harming oxybenzone and octinoxate, goes into effect on January 1, 2021, but why wait? Get a jump on protecting our local coral reefs by making the sunscreen switch today.

  • Avoid sunscreen and body care products containing oxybenzone and octinoxate.
  • Choose zinc or titanium-dioxide-based products instead.
  • Skip spray-on products which leave residues on the sand that can get washed into the ocean.
  • Reduce your need for sunscreen by covering up with a rash guard, hat, umbrella, or swim tights.


Hawaii etiquette and culture are unlike any other in the world. So, we completely understand that many visitors won’t automatically know how to honor and respect the islands’ customs and traditions.

  1. Appreciate Lei
    Lei have been used by Hawaiians since the early Polynesian settlers wore them, and chiefs would exchange them as symbols of peace between groups. So, they have deep cultural significance. If someone gives you a lei, etiquette dictates that you accept it and wear it as long as you’re in the presence of the giver. If you don’t know how to position the lei, here’s what to do: Wear it around your neck, with the flowers hanging down in both the front and back. And, please don’t play with it by putting it on your head or wrapping it around your wrist as a bracelet. If someone is pregnant, DON’T offer them a lei, as it’s considered bad luck to wear one (it symbolizes the umbilical cord getting wrapped around the baby’s neck). If you’re pregnant and believe it a lei’s bad luck potential, politely decline and say, “I’m hapai" (pregnant). The lei-offerer will understand.
  2. Respect Sacred Sites
    You’ll find that cultural sites are just about everywhere in Hawaii, whether it’s a temple, a rock wall with petroglyphs, or carvings created by ancient Hawaiians. It’s crucial that you respect these sites by speaking and walking quietly in these areas. Always strive to leave the site the same as you found it, and don’t leave trash behind. Extend your respect to the local wildlife and landscape; something as simple as picking a flower or rearranging some rocks to spell out your name can be interpreted as disrespectful.
  3. Surf Like a Local
    We applaud anyone who is willing to get out and try to learn how to surf. But, be sure to stay out of the way of the more serious surfers (you’ll know who they are). When you’re ready to try it on your own, wait in line behind the other surfers and don’t try to catch the first wave. Wait until everyone ahead of you has ridden waves back toward shore, then take your turn. Always stay out of the way of local surfers, and be careful of others on the beach and in the water.
  4. Respect the Kupuna
    Hawaiian people have great respect for their kupuna (elders), and you should make an effort to do so as well. Let older people go in front of you and hold doors open for them. If you’re sitting down, and an elderly person shows up, consider offering him/her your seat. This isn’t quite as popular as I remember years ago, but showing deference to seniors will win you points no matter what the situation.
  5. Know Aloha and Mahalo
    If you learn only two Hawaiian words while you’re here, make them “Aloha” and “Mahalo.” “Aloha” has many meanings, but you’ll probably use it to mean Hello and goodbye. Mahalo means “thank you,” and many locals appreciate it when visitors say something polite, not to mention saying something polite in Hawaiian!
  6. Take Off Your Shoes
    Hawaii locals can be so friendly, you just might find yourself invited into someone else’s home. If that happens, remove your shoes before you enter. The tradition stems from Japanese immigrants who brought the custom to Hawaii. And, if you see a line of shoes, make sure you put your shoes neatly in line. In many homes, you’ll see a line of shoes right outside the door.
  7. Be a Courteous Driver
    When you drive in Hawaii, try your best to leave your aggressive traffic behaviors behind. Drivers here typically don’t use their horns, and most people are gracious about allowing other drivers to ease in front of them in traffic.
  8. Respect Hawaii Wildlife
    Not only is touching endangered animals against the law, but it also goes against Hawaiian tradition. Be respectful of Hawaiian wildlife, and don’t approach endangered species such as sea turtles, monk seals, and humpback whales.

Out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii and its people have developed specific customs over time, and it’s important to know how to conduct yourself when you’re here. So, take heed of these Hawaii etiquette tips, and you’ll fit right in when you’re here!

We invite you to join with the many people who have made The Mālama Maui County Pledge!


  • I pledge to ho`oma`ema`e (do what is right) while visiting the islands and waters of Maui County. 
  • I will mindfully experience the breathtaking natural beauty of the `āina (land) and the welcoming aloha spirit of its po`e (people).
  • I will be ha'aha'a (humble) and no`ono`o (thoughtful) in my actions.
  • I will remember that each step I take is upon land that is someone else's home, sacred site, and living history.
  • If I do not know proper, respectful, or safe behavior, it is my kuleana (responsibility) to 'imi na'auao (seek knowledge) and ask before acting.
  • I will be maka'ala (aware) while swimming and hiking, and I will respect the strength and power of ocean currents, rushing streams and the variable and unfamiliar terrain of these islands.
  • I will admire wildlife from a safe and respectful distance, as Hawai`i is the endangered species capital of the world.
  • I will take nothing from this wahi (place) but memories and leave nothing but gratitude.
  • I pledge to mālama  (take care of) Maui County, and remember that: He ali`i ka `āina; he kauā ke kanaka. "The land is a chief; man is its servant."