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Hawaii’s beaches are home to some amazing wildlife, including several species of sea turtles that emerge from the ocean at specific times of the year. If you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of these ancient marine reptiles coming ashore in Hawaii, here’s a quick answer: green sea turtles and hawksbill sea turtles generally come ashore to lay their eggs between May and August in Hawaii, with peak nesting season in June and July.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about Hawaii’s visiting sea turtles. We’ll discuss the different species found in Hawaiian waters, when their nesting seasons occur, the best beaches to spot them coming ashore, and how to responsibly observe them without disturbing these protected creatures.

Sea Turtle Species Found in Hawaii

Green Sea Turtles

The magnificent green sea turtle is the most common sea turtle found in Hawaiian waters. According to the NOAA Fisheries, around 2,000 green sea turtles feed in Hawaii’s shallow, lush seagrass beds and coral reef ecosystems.

These gentle giants migrate long distances between their nesting and feeding grounds. The green sea turtle primarily feasts on seagrasses and algae.

Hawksbill Sea Turtles

The beautifully patterned hawksbill sea turtle also frequents Hawaii’s tropical waters. As per the US Fish & Wildlife Service, hawksbills prefer shallow coral reefs and rocky areas that offer ample sponges to munch.

This critically endangered turtle gets its name from its narrow, pointed beak used to extract nutritious sponges and other food embedded in rock crevices.

Loggerhead Sea Turtles

While not as common as green sea turtles, some loggerhead sea turtles have been spotted around Hawaii as well. These turtles are named for their large heads which support powerful jaws to easily crush hard-shelled prey like conchs, clams, and crabs.

According to See Turtles, loggerheads undertake some of the longest known ocean migrations to nest and feed.

Olive Ridley Sea Turtles

The darling olive ridley sea turtle is the smallest and most abundant sea turtle species worldwide. As posted on Pacific Island Parks site, these little sea turtles occasionally find their way to Hawaii, likely carried by strong winds and currents.

Known for synchronized mass nesting events, olive ridleys predominantly feed on jellyfish, crabs, snails, shrimp, and fish.

Leatherback Sea Turtles

Lastly, some leatherback sea turtles may pass by Hawaii while traversing the Pacific Ocean. As the US Fish & Wildlife details, leatherbacks are pelagic creatures that can migrate enormous distances between nesting beaches and jellyfish feeding hotspots.

They are the largest sea turtles on Earth, growing over 6 feet and exceeding 2,000 pounds!

Sea Turtle Nesting and Breeding Seasons in Hawaii

Green Sea Turtle Nesting Season

The peak nesting season for endangered green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) in Hawaii runs from June through August every year. During this period, female green turtles haul themselves ashore onto sandy beaches to dig nests and lay eggs.

According toSave Our Shearwaters, Hawaii’s largest green turtle nesting colony is found at East Island in French Frigate Shoals, part of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

Green sea turtles may nest up to 6 times per season, laying an average of 110 eggs in each nest. The eggs incubate underground for around 2 months before hatchlings emerge and scramble to the ocean, beginning their lives at sea.

Since green turtles are long-lived species, it may take 25-50 years for them to reach reproductive maturity and return to Hawaiian beaches to continue the nesting cycle.

Hawksbill Turtle Nesting Season

The peak nesting period for critically endangered hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) runs from July through September in Hawaii. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), hawksbills prefer to nest on beaches with rocky highlands and coral reefs offshore – habitats that provide nourishment for their sponge-heavy diets.

Some key Hawaii hawksbill nesting sites include Miloliʻi Beach on Hawaii Island and remote beaches in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands like Pearl and Hermes Atoll. Female hawksbills may lay up to 5 nests per season, each containing around 160 eggs.

After incubating for 50-60 days, hatchlings emerge under the cover of darkness and make a mad dash for the ocean.

Other Species’ Breeding Cycles

The remaining 3 marine turtle species found in Hawaii waters – loggerheads, olive ridleys, and leatherbacks – only rarely nest in the islands. Loggerheads (Caretta caretta) and olive ridleys (Lepidochelys olivacea) prefer mainland nesting beaches, while massive leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriacea) migrate across the entire Pacific Ocean from nesting grounds in the western Pacific to feed near Hawaii.

So while sporadic nesting has been documented, regular breeding cycles have not been established in Hawaii for these species. Continued monitoring and protection of Hawaii’s beaches provides a lifeline for current sea turtle populations as well as hope for the potential expansion of additional species in the future.

The Best Beaches in Hawaii to See Nesting Sea Turtles

Laniakea Beach (Oahu)

Laniakea Beach on Oahu’s North Shore is a prime nesting spot for green sea turtles between May and August each year. The wide, sandy beach provides excellent habitat, and volunteers often monitor turtle activity to protect the nests.

Informational signs educate visitors about safely viewing the amazing spectacle of turtles hauling up on shore to lay eggs. Seeing a mother turtle dig a nest and deposit her eggs is an unforgettable experience!

Papa’loa Beach (Big Island)

On the Kohala Coast of Hawaii’s Big Island, Papa’loa Beach is a top sea turtle nesting area from April through August. Volunteers keep a close watch over mama turtles lumbering onto the black sand beach at night to lay their eggs.

If you’re lucky, you may catch the adorable sight of dozens of tiny baby turtles emerging from their nests and scrambling to the sea. To ensure good viewing practices, educational turtle watches are offered several nights a week during nesting season.

Po’olenalena Beach (Maui)

Po’olenalena Beach on southern Maui hosts significant sea turtle nesting activity, with peak season from May to September. Green sea turtles are most commonly spotted digging nests and depositing eggs along the sandy beach.

The area is monitored by the Pacific Whale Foundation to protect turtles and educate visitors. Turtle watch tours allow people to safely view nesting and hatching in a responsible way. There’s no guarantee you’ll witness baby turtles emerging, but some lucky onlookers have been able to see this heartwarming event!

Kawa Bay (Molokai)

On Molokai’s secluded southern coast, Kawa Bay serves as important nesting grounds for green sea turtles from May to September. Due to protective efforts in this remote area, some 60 turtles have been counted depositing over 300 eggs in one night!

For responsible visitors interested in volunteering, the Kawa Bay Turtle Patrol offers the rare chance to monitor turtle nests and gather data alongside scientists. Seeing mother turtles digging nests on the beach is quite possible if you visit during peak season.

Responsible Sea Turtle Viewing in Hawaii

Keep Your Distance

When encountering sea turtles in Hawaii, it’s crucial to keep a respectful distance of at least 10 feet. Getting too close can frighten or stress the turtles, disrupting their natural behaviors. Maintaining space allows them to nest, bask, or swim without interference.

If a turtle seems agitated by your presence, gently move farther away. With over 90% of Hawaii’s green sea turtle nesting taking place at French Frigate Shoals, keeping a safe distance is vital for these endangered creatures.

Avoid Using Bright Lights or Flash Photography

Bright artificial lights and camera flashes can confuse and disorient nesting sea turtles in Hawaii. Since they rely on natural light from the moon and stars to navigate onto the beach and back to sea, excessive brightness can cause turtles to become lost or abandon nesting attempts.

Instead, view nesting turtles only under ambient light. Never shine flashlights or headlamps in their direction. They need darkness to follow their natural instincts.

Be Respectful of Nesting Areas

Some beaches in Hawaii provide critical nesting habitat for endangered honu (green sea turtles). It’s essential to treat these areas with respect by not disturbing turtle tracks, nests, or hatchlings. Adhere to posted restrictions, walk only in designated zones, and do not dig in the sand or leave trash and equipment behind.

Following the rules helps protect turtle nests so mothers can safely return to the ocean and hatchlings can emerge successfully. Being considerate allows these special beaches to remain viable nesting sites.

Volunteer for Conservation Efforts

Those eager to help sea turtles can volunteer with nonprofit groups like Malama na Honu or the Hawaiian Sea Turtle Conservation Project. These organizations need assistance with critical conservation efforts like beach cleanups, nest monitoring, hatchling releases, habitat restoration, and public outreach.

Volunteering provides valuable hands-on learning while directly supporting turtle survival. It’s also a chance to educate others about responsible viewing practices. Protecting nesting turtles in Hawaii ensures future generations can enjoy these amazing creatures.


We hope this guide gave you a thorough overview of what to expect if you’re looking to spot sea turtles hauling out on Hawaii’s picturesque beaches. To recap – green and hawksbill turtles are most likely to come ashore between May and August to lay their eggs, with the optimum viewing window in June and July.

Now that you know when and where to see them, as well as how to responsibly observe these amazing creatures, you’ll be ready to witness the incredible sight of mother sea turtles returning to the Hawaiian coasts that first gave them life years ago.

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