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Friday, July 10, 2009

Enjoying Oahu: Turtle Beach and Shark's Cove

As a marine biologist by training, I naturally love the ocean and just about everything in it. So it is such a treat for me to be able to just go out and enjoy what I love. Right now, I'm in between my last job as a simple graduate and being a full time graduate student, so I've got a little free time to explore. And, being on an island in the middle of the Pacific which is only something around 38 miles across, exploration naturally tends to include the ocean.

As a blogger, of course, I feel the need to share such excursions with you. So, it's quite happily that I have decided to extend my "Enjoying Florida" to my new home. Here is my first segment of "Enjoying Oahu."

Today, we initially set out to snorkel at Haunauma Bay, a beautiful cove with tons of fantastic fish. But as we drove by, the parking lot said "lot full" and it was clear that the tourists had beaten us to the punch, so we decided to take the scenic, albeit long, drive around the eastern tip of the island and up to the North Shore to hit Shark's Cove instead.

The drive itself is stunning. Windy, curvy roads meander stuck between mountains and the sea, through picturesque little towns selling shrimp out of trucks, and past some of the most beautiful stretches of beach I have ever seen. It takes awhile to go all the way from Hawaii Kai to Waimea traveling around the island instead of through the middle of it, but the views are worth it. Staggering cliffs, rocky shores, sandy beaches and tropical jungle all await you as you wind your way around the coast.

The real treat, however, awaits you at your destination: The North Shore of Oahu. Known worldwide for its immense surf in the winter months, its actually quite calm during the summer, and has some of the best snorkeling in the islands. Specifically, I'm talking about Shark's Cove.

But before we went there, we decided to hit a small and almost unnoticeable beach first, which is called Turtle Beach. Unlike Shark's Cove (whose title was to attract divers, or so I've heard), Turtle Beach lives up to its name. There is almost always turtles in the waters just off shore or taking a break on the beach itself, and this day was no exception. Upon arrival a crowd of tourists alerted us to a huge turtle who was sunning itself on the sand.

They have volunteers at the beach who protect the sea turtles from harassment by onlookers, and force people to stay a good ten feet from the turtle itself while its sunning and enjoying the beach. But 10 feet is plenty close enough for me to get all nerdily excited. I love sea turtles. I did an internship at Mote Marine Lab working in their nesting research program and absolutely loved every minute of it. To me, seeing a sea turtle is always exciting, and doubly so to see them in the wild.

Just as we were about to leave, another turtle decided it was time to haul itself up on the sand for some sun. This one, however, was different. It had a satellite tag on its back. To me, it was even cooler than the first. To see the interaction of nature and science in such a simple way just made my nerd circuits fry with joy. Somewhere, right then, a satellite was recording that turtle climbing up onto that beach, and sending that data to some scientist who is using it to better understand how sea turtles migrate and move and how we can better protect them. After all, all 7 species of sea turtle are endangered, and if we cannot find ways to live with them and protect them they will simply disappear.

Anyhow, all these sea turtles got me really excited about snorkeling at Shark's Cove, just a few blocks down the road, and known as a favorite hang out of the turtles. Last time I went, I got to see two of them swimming around - I was hoping this time, now armed with an underwater camera, that I'd at least get to see something.

Shark's cove is a beautiful, lava-rocky inlet that can get a bit too wavy to snorkel at times (and is downright dangerous in the winter during surf season). Luckily, today, it was high tide and the shallower, more protected lagoon was fully flooded, allowing for nice, calm snorkeling. Before we could get in the water, we had to climb over the lava rock fields which create and protect the sensational snorkeling spot. On them, Barry noticed, were lots of "dead crabs." If fact, these weren't dead crabs at all, but crab molts, perfectly preserved above the waves.

Even before we got in, there was one species that stuck out right away - the sea urchins. They were EVERYWHERE! Last time, I don't think I recall seeing one. But as we climbed over the rocks and when we did finally reach the lagoon, they were all over.


In fact, at first, there seemed to be few fish at all. A couple little guys nibbling on the live rock, but mostly, it was the echinoderms that seemed to be out in full force:

We were starting to worry what happened to all the fish. But as we gradually explored deeper areas, we got our answer. They were simply waiting for us in the deeper water! We saw all kinds of fish - wrasses, parrot fish, and even the state fish of Hawaii, the humu­humu­nuku­nuku­āpuaʻa, which are one of my favorites (sadly, not pictured - he was a speedy little bugger who didn't want to pose for a photo).


While the fish were pretty and the inverts were spectacular, I had still yet to see my beloved Honu. We had been snorkeling for hours, and although many seemed to be pulling themselves out on shore just a few minutes away, none were swimming in the nice, peaceful lagoon that we were exploring.

I had just about given up hope of seeing a turtle when Barry grabbed my shoulder and started pointing furiously. Sure enough, in the murky, deeper waters just ahead of us, was a small sea turtle.

Lucky for me, he (or she) didn't stay out there long. Soon enough the turtle was practically underneath us, and I got to get some great shots of it swimming along and diving down for a bite or two of delicious algae.

He even swam right past me in the shallows, as if saying hello, before returning to the deep.


At last, my hopes for the day more than fulfilled, we climbed out of the water over the lava rocks and headed home via the center-island roads. Much faster route, by the way, and brought us past the Dole Plantation, where we grabbed some delicious pineapple frozen yogurt.

All and all a fantastic day of exploring Oahu. I'm sure, though, living here, that there will be many more to come!

3 comments:

Allie said...

You just shattered my dreams of getting to snorkel Shark's Cove for my birthday....stupid wavy winter!

Sounds like you are having a BLAST out there. I'm happy you're enjoying yourself and get a nice little break to settle in and have some fun!

TAKE MORE PICTURES! Remember, some of us have been deprived and have never been to Hawaii :-P

WhySharksMatter said...

It's a little alarming how many of the animals in those photos I've eaten.

Haole Girl In Hawaii said...

I enjoyed your enthusiasm about the North Shore and especially Turtle Beach. I volunteer there once or twice a week and am continuously awed by them myself. The honu you have pictured coming onshore is one of my favorite baskers, Hiwa Hiwa or precious one. I hope you make it back again soon.