The Search for Sea Turtles on the North Shore of O’ahu

We wanted to see some sea turtles in their natural habitat but we couldn’t find the right turtle beach or the turtles anywhere!

We marched out across the beach toward the ocean, stripping off our backpacks and clothes, snorkel gear in hand. We were intent on spotting some sea turtles swimming in the ocean, out near the jetty, just as in the pictures we saw from an article Clint found that morning. It described a bay where sea turtles swim around in the water and sunbathe on the beach. He decided that day he would surprise me and bring me to see sea turtles. He loved surprising me. The entire trip to Hawaii was a surprise, after all. He knew I love animals and prefer a natural environment to animals in captivity.

At that time in 2016, all it said was “Turtle Beach.” That’s all we knew about the location. So we hopped in the car on a hunt to find this place. Clint was my late boyfriend and my chauffeur for the whole trip, and really treated me. So naturally, I didn’t ask a lot of questions because I knew I would love whatever surprise he had in store. He pulled up Google Maps and typed in “Turtle Bay,” and off we drove in our rented convertible.

Anywhere you go on O’ahu is worth taking the scenic route. We drove the perimeter of the island a few days in a row.

We arrive at the destination and it looks partially residential. It was a little odd, but there were signs for visitor-type parking. After we parked and followed signs to the beach, we started realizing it’s part of a resort called “Turtle Bay” which seemed a little odd, but we were set on seeing sea turtles that day. We went straight to the beach and started snorkeling. We swam around separately for quite awhile and saw nothing. We even asked others on the beach there if they knew anything about sea turtles at that location and no one seemed to have a clue what we were talking about.

Baffled, we stalked back to the car, confused as to why we ended up there. We were sitting in the parking lot while he meticulously reread the articles on his phone and I did my girl thing to freshen up. We had already wasted an hour driving to the wrong location and exploring it, only to realize it wasn’t the right place. I felt bad and didn’t want him to feel pressured. But without a word, the car went in reverse, and we were back on the road, driving west on Kamehameha Highway along the gorgeous North Shore of O’ahu again. (Pictured is a different section of the highway somewhere else on the northeast shore.)

We were 20 minutes into the drive when he suddenly pulls off the road amongst other cars parked and stops. It was somewhat an odd scene to me at first glance, almost like we were in the middle of nowhere heading to someone’s backyard barbecue. But he always took care of us before on trips and I trusted him, so I followed along. We hop out of the car and start walking down Kamehameha Highway a few minutes to a little hole-in-the-wall beach on the side of the highway.

As we walk through the trees to the beach, I was growing more sure this was the place. This is where the sea turtles are! We both instinctively sped up our steps and didn’t even stop as we shed our clothes and bags on the beach. We already had our snorkeling gear ready to go and marched straight into the water to swim to the turtles. We swam out separately and began searching the waters for any swimming turtles. We popped our heads up out of the water every now and then to show each other thumbs down, indicating we hadn’t seen anything. Then we’d explore in other spots. We were going farther and farther out and still, nothing. After about 25 minutes, defeated, we gave up and brought it in.

Is this the wrong place again? Is it the wrong time of day? Where are the sea turtles?! Show me the sea turtles, man!

As we trudged back out of the shallows, we saw small groups of people standing around on the beach. It was kind of weird, they were standing around the rocks on the beach. We thought it was some kind of private memorial or something. But what were they doing? Why weren’t they standing all together? As we slowly sauntered through the sand eyeing the crowds, we realized they weren’t standing around rocks. They were sea turtles! All of the sea turtles were sunbathing on the beach! We marched right by them on the beach, thinking they were giant rocks. A sudden burst of excitement surged through me and I scurried for my camera to capture the moment and video the turtles relaxing in the warm sand.

It almost became a moment of frenzy as the excitement had me buzzing around the turtles for a moment. In my excitement, I was afraid they would leave soon and I didn’t want the moment to end. I scurried across the beach to make sure I checked all the large rocks for turtle legs and photographed as many turtles as I could. I was so focused on the mission that I nearly tripped over one of the turtles! In this moment, I feel a shock to my core and I step outside of myself for a moment and ask myself – what are you doing?

In all my excitement, I almost stepped over the reverence that we should all have around animals and nature, and nearly fell on my selfish humanity.

I instantly felt quite embarrassed at how I had just been acting, racing around the beach like a wild tourist; that I was treating them more like things to be filmed rather than creatures to be admired. It was just before that moment that I had noticed thick red cord placed in the sand by volunteers each day, encircling some of the turtles in hopes of keeping people out of their space. The cords were quite sandy and hard to see at that time, especially when you’re racing around them like a maniac. I felt like the paparazzi hounding a star trying to enjoy some peace in the sun.

Shame on me. Although I beat myself up for it, I am thankful that I was able to recognize it in the moment and stop right away. It was when I finally slowed down that I noticed the placards with the turtles’ names and stories. They are all well documented and tracked, thanks to a non-profit organization called Malama na Honu (Protect the Turtles), “made up of over 95 dedicated and knowledgeable volunteer ‘Honu Guardians’ who are on the beach every day of the year to prevent intentional and inadvertent harassment of the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles.” If you ever get to O’ahu, look for Laniakea Beach on the North Shore in Haleiwa to visit the sea turtles. But be sure that you are respectful of nature and keep a sense of reverence toward any creature you encounter, big and small. All creatures deserve a chance at life.

Travel note:

Their website says that the beach is open, but they are requesting visitors respectfully wear a mask on the beach, socially distance 6 feet apart, and stay 10 feet from the turtles. There is also a 14-day quarantine in place for all visitors to the state of Hawaii. This article is updated regularly regarding quarantining information to go to Hawaii. It is not advised at this time.

In honor of Clint’s life │ February 1983 – October 2017

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