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Molokini Crater - National Marine Preserve

Located three miles off Maui's rugged Makena coast, lies the alluring, sunken volcanic crater of Molokini. Her crystal-clear tropical waters teem with an array of fish that are seemingly painted in every color of the rainbow and the island itself is home to two distinct species of seabirds.

Recent archeological evidence shows that the ancient Hawaiians actually ventured out to Molokini, hundreds of years ago, to fish. And it is also believed that they may have additionally harvested seabirds, eggs and feathers here too. But today, Molokini Crater is a carefully protected Marine Life Conservation District and the island has been declared a Hawaii State Seabird Sanctuary.

Because of Molokini's unique crescent shape, it provides a natural barrier against the waves and currents.  This is why the water is typically clear, blue and calm inside the crater. It is a safe-haven for all kinds of smaller fish and is particularly suitable for beginner to intermediate snorkelers.

Ironically, during World War II, the United States Navy decided to use Molokini for target practice because of this unique shape as the profile also unfortunately resembled a battleship. Thankfully this only done temporarily during the war and the U.S. Navy stopped this practice. Fortunately, because of nature's amazing ability to recover, and with the help of careful protection, conservation methods and laws, Molokini is once again alive with marine-life and a pristine and beautiful underwater treasure!

And even before that, Molokini had an even more tumultuous past! Thousands of years ago, although calm and pristine today, Molokini was quite different. It began as a violent underwater, volcanic eruption! What you see today, is actually what remains of a giant cinder cone that rose above the surface and erupted approximately 230,000 years ago. Hundreds of ancient cinder cones can be found all around Maui, but Molokini is unique, in the fact that it is one of the few that rose from the deep ocean floor to reach above the water. Many of these cones never break the surface of the water and only erupt below the surface.

So, what causes these cones to occur? Well, when our islands were young, molten lava flowed beneath the surface of the ocean through porous tubes. These tubes would also trap water within their rocky structure. When the flowing lava heated this water to temperatures in excess of 100 degrees Celsius, the water turned to steam and caused the earth to bulge and form a cone-like shape. Some of these cones would actually explode. Rock and cinder would spew into the sky and part of the cone's walls would collapse. Along with water-erosion, from ocean waves, this is what created the familiar crescent shape we know today as Molokini Crater.

However, the Hawaiian people have a very different story of how the shape of Molokini was formed. Ancient legend tells of a tale that goes something along the lines of this story...

"Many sunsets ago, the powerful fire goddess Pele fell in love with a handsome Maui prince. Unfortunately, a lovely female mo'o, or gecko, also had eyes for the prince. Angered and jealous, the powerful goddess Pele took care of her competition by cutting this mo'o in two and turning her into stone. The head of Pele's rival is said to be a cinder cone near Makena Beach (known as Pu'u Ho'olai) and the gecko's tail forms what we know today as Molokini."

Whichever explanation you choose to embrace, Molokini remains at the top of the list of "must see" attractions when on Maui. It definitely is on most people's "Bucket List of Snorkeling". You can't say you have snorkeled Maui unless you snorkeled at Molokini. The back-side of Molokini is also on the top-list of Scuba Diving spots in the world. Her famed "Back Wall" is definitely recommended as a top spot by many of the leading dive magazines. 

But what makes it a truly special snorkeling location, is to be far off the coast of Maui, within the shelter and protection of Molokini's unique shape, seeing species of fish that normally you would never see when you snorkel along Maui's shoreline. The underwater visibility is some of the best in all of Hawaii. While many snorkeling locations around the islands, on a good day, may offer 50 feet of visibility – Molokini comparatively boasts a pretty consistent 150 feet!

Get the Most Out of Your Molokini Snorkeling

  • A lot of the colorful and smaller marine-life is towards the actual crater/island itself where the water depth is shallow.
  • Keep your eyes peeled for movement in the coral formations below. A variety of eels and octopus use the coral crevices and ledges to hide in or under.
  • The longer you stay in the water snorkeling at Molokini Crater – The better chance you have of seeing more marine-life.
  • Despite Hawaii's waters being warm – Wearing a rashguard or a wet suit top will reduce your chances of getting cold and allow you to remain in the water longer to snorkel.
  • Pause every so often, when snorkeling, to stop and have a look above the water to take a bearing on where your position is away from the boat.
  • Control your instincts to chase after the marine-life you see and you may find that they actually begin to approach you. Remember, most marine-life can out-swim you anyway!