Molokini and Honolua Bay

Aug 15, 2022 | General Information

Table of Contents
Each of Hawaii’s 400-plus species of fish has its own unique role in the nearshore environment and seeks out a different habitat. Some fish are at home in sandy bottom areas, others in boulder-strewn waters off rocky shorelines. Tidepools provide “nursery” areas for young fish of many species. A healthy reef provides fish with abundant food resources and protection from predators.

Warm waters surrounding Maui are home to protected marine reserves like Molokini and Honolua Bay. These reserves have crystal clear waters and beautiful coral formations teeming with tropical fish. Molokini is the best known and most popular for snorkeling of the Marine Life Conservation Districts (MLCDs) in Hawaii. Both Molokini and Honolua exemplify the reasons why these MLCDs are so valuable and important for Hawaii’s ecosystem and tourism.

Only a tiny island about 3 miles off the southwest coast of Maui, Molokini is an ancient volcano that rises out of the sea in the Alalakeiki Channel between the islands of Maui and Kahoolawe. The northern rim has eroded away allowing the sea to flood the crater, forming its unique crescent shape. The island is a state bird sanctuary and the inside of the crater is an MLCD. Water visibility on a typical day exceeds 100 feet and it’s not unheard of to have visibility exceed 200 feet.

The old volcano walls protect the inner crater from ocean swells making it a safe spot to snorkel with the whole family. Shallow water next to the shoreline allows sunlight to reach the bottom, growing lots of coral for fish to make their homes. The outside southern rim of the crater is famous for being one of the best wall dives anywhere on the planet. The back wall is an underwater 350-foot vertical drop.

Molokini has an encyclopedia of marine life. Some of the marine life you can expect to see in Molokini’s MLCD include: butterfly fish, parrot fish, damsel fish, surgeon fish, moorish idol, tang, wrasse, squirrel fish, soldier fish, perch, chub, trigger fish, the Humuhumunukunukuapuaa, goat fish, snapper, hawk fish, jacks, emperor fish, big eye scad, cornet fish, and needle fish. You also are likely to see eels, crustaceans, invertebrates, and reef sharks and sometimes even whale sharks, manta rays, and Hawaiian monk seals.

Honolua means “twin bays” in Hawaiian and refers to the neighboring bays of Honolua and Mokuleia. Honolua Bay is part of the 45-acre Honolua-Mokuleia Marine Conservation District located roughly 10 miles north of Lahaina. The Bay and surrounding area have a rich history that goes back to the reign of Pi’ilani who ordered that a footpath be built to connect the six bays of West Maui in his domain. This path was known as Honoapi’ilani, meaning “the bays of Pi’ilani”.

In modern times, Honolua Ranch, that became Honolua Plantation, grew taro, coffee, mango and aloe, raised cattle, merged with a pineapple company and formed the Maui Land and Pineapple Company. The Company dedicated several thousand acres of land to conservation before Honolua Bay was declared a MLCD in 1978. Locals protesting the threat of development in Honolua Bay led to the state’s purchase of what become the MLCD. Honolua Bay also is an historically rich spot. In 1976 the voyaging canoe, Hokulea, was launched on its historic sail to French Polynesia that helped to boost interest in ancient Hawaiian culture.

The coral in Honolua Bay is home to many of the reef fish: butterfly fish, parrot fish, damsel fish, surgeon fish, moorish idol, tang, wrasse, box fish, flag tails, cardinal fish, squirrel fish, soldier fish, big eyes, chub, trigger fish, Humuhumunukunukuapuaa, goat fish, snapper, peacock bass, hawk fish, jacks, mullet, and even large schools of big eye scad.