Sea Turtles, Stingrays and Sea Urchins- Oh My!

When I saw the sea turtle for the first time, I was floating above it, attracted to where it was by the commotion of the other snorkelers bobbing in a circle and pushing towards the sea floor in short, truncated dives. I was directly above them in their misguided attempts to reach the turtle and touch it and somehow this proximity to their foolishness made me feel like I just walked into the turtle’s bedroom with its pants dropped to the floor.

I decided to let the tide pull me away and give it some space, but the wonder of seeing a real live sea turtle in the wild, didn’t keep me from turning away for long. In the half minute it took me to circle back in it’s direction, the turtle had decided to ascend to the surface of the water, perhaps due to the actions of the tourists.

Where it was once napping on the sandy bottom, it was now perpendicular to the sea floor and rising slowly in one straight line, it’s cream belly facing me and its green head pointed toward the surface like a geiger counter. In my memory of this moment, I like to imagine the turtle slowly spinning as if it were on a pedestal in a jewelry box, but I know that it wasn’t. It did feel as though time had slowed down somehow and it was only the turtle and I in this giant expanse of water. The turtle had been 40 feet below me at first glance so as it glided upwards, it’s presence became more real, more solid, even as I knew that it would also slowly be moving away from me and outward into the greater ocean.

But this didn’t matter to me at the time. All that mattered was that I was sharing the ocean in a slow motion freeze frame with a sea turtle in ascension. Many people have seen sea turtles in their travels, but this day was special somehow, more magical, as if the sea turtle had bestowed something on us, as if he had given us a gift from the sea.

This was my first time out to Electric Beach on the leeward side of Oahu. I had lived on the island for six months and spent every vacation out there since the age of 12 but I had never gone swimming below a power plant just for kicks. In return, I repaid my new friend, David, for this snorkeling trip by showing him the tide pool at Makaha.

Makaha Valley after the rain

My cousins had introduced me to it a few years before when they took breaks between surf sets and to my hearts chagrin grabbed purple sea urchins and broke them apart to feed to the fish in the tide pool. Yes, I would eat sea urchin if cooked for me and yes, other animals eat them too, but somehow it made me so sad to see their purple spikes torn apart and their insides scooped out just for our pleasure.

Makaha Beach…and my cousin, back when he was sweet and innocent.

The tide pool creates a small swimming hole in a break in the reef that locals often come to soak in. On this day, that was not an exception. A family of four Hawaiians were jumping from the rock ledge into the pool. Their sarongs hung from the rock wall bordering the water like flags announcing their heritage. They were all rotund and a deep brown, their long hair tied to the tops of their head. One woman had a large gap in her front teeth and a big smile to match. They were friendly and spoke such a deep pidgin of Hawaiian and English that even with my “local haole” status, I couldn’t understand much of what they said.

The tide was in and I wouldn’t normally go swimming in the natural pool with the water as deep as it was and the waves coming in as fast as they were, but with the locals there in the pool, I couldn’t lose face and turn around either. I turned to my friends and said, “This is it. Ready to jump in.” And what were they going to do, say no. We walked up to the rim of the diving ledge and looked down at the water frothing over the top of the reef. At least we knew it would be deep when we took the plunge. One after the other, we all made it into the pool, the locals clapping and cheering us on.

The waves came with a speediness that rubbed me up against the reef a time or two, but I was able to keep my balance well enough that there weren’t any major accidents or injuries. The time had come to move on though and our driver announced…“Well we’ve seen sea turtles and swam in a tide pool, now how about some sting rays?”

We were off to Ko’olina on our way back towards Hawaii Kai at the south of the island. Ko’olina is known for its calm beaches lined with large hotel chains. It’s no Waikiki, more family centered and less surf, but for sting rays and a tropical drink during sunset, it was worth a stop.  David took us to the Marriott and expertly weaved his way through the hotel until we came to a man-made shallow pool full of stingrays floating through the water in a graceful balletic dance. I was mesmerized by them, watching them glide, swerve, speed over the top of one another. While it wasn’t a wild sea turtle, there was still something enchanting about it. We made our way to the bar and ordered drinks with fresh pineapple, putting our feet up on chairs and watching the sun set over the Ko’olina lagoons.

Stingray in the Maui Ocean Center – 2007
Maui Ocean Center 2007

We have no pictures from this day, only the memories imprinted on us. The sea turtle spinning through the ocean, the Hawaiians bobbing in the water, the sting rays gliding through sunset-tinged streams. It was the perfect Hawaiian day. A little bit of magic and a whole lot of Aloha.

Looking forward to living this dream again in 2 weeks. Summer vacation!

Featured image from Morguefiles

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