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Maui Dive Sites: Shore vs Boat Diving

Maui scuba diver enters the Mala Wharf dive site from the beach.

How to Scuba Dive in Maui

Scuba divers find Maui dive sites unique because there is both shore and boat diving. But not everyone is aware that you can get your scuba diving equipment and walk in from the beach. For example, in Lahaina, there is no need to wake up early and pay for a boat charter to discover Maui underwater.

Even as a seasoned PADI scuba instructor, my first shore dive was in Maui. After many years of working in scuba diving on different boats, I had never considered the idea of not boat diving. I thought, inevitably, all of the best underwater life is found far out at sea. But, wow, I was wrong. Scuba diving from the beach is excellent, and it is available for both certified divers and beginners. So, everyone over ten years old can get underwater at Maui dive sites like Airport Beach and Mala Wharf in Lahaina.

The island blessed my first Maui scuba dive. I quickly entered the water from the beach on a calm day and descended underwater. Within 10 minutes of combing over a good stretch of the coral reef, a Manta Ray appeared in about 20 feet of water. The significant visitor had a wingspan of at least 10 feet! I hovered over the coral reef, mesmerized by the grace and movements of the Manta Ray. Then I spent an incredible 20 MINUTES swimming alongside her. She slowly cruised over the coral reef and continuously examined my alien presence. This scuba dive immediately erased any potential doubts I had about Maui shore diving. Amazingly, it was the first dive that my future husband and I had ever done together. It felt like Maui had opened her arms to us, and at that moment, Banyan Tree Divers Maui was born.

Maui scuba divers surfacing under Mala Wharf.One of the most frequent scuba questions that Banyan Tree Divers receives is: How does Maui scuba diving from the beach compare with boat diving? Our answer always centers around the specific needs of our guests. If someone is looking for the experience of being on a boat and being a deep diver, then there is simply no comparison. We refer this kind of certified diver to a local boat dive shop in Lahaina. Ultimately, shore diving wins most of the time because we get convenient meeting times and easy access to beautiful marine life. Plus, even introductory divers get to see the number one Maui scuba diving site, the excellent Mala Wharf.

Dive Sites from Shore and Boat

Maui dive sites feature vast stretches of fringing coral reef stretching along the south and west-facing coastlines. When dive conditions are calm, you can see the intricate coral formations right through the water. Over 20 percent of the 90-plus Hawaiian coral species are endemic, and almost half of the coral species are considered reef builders as opposed to soft corals (Cortney Cameron, Hawaiian Coral Reefs). However, extensive exposure to El Nino storms limits the development of coral reef varieties. Thus, four robust coral species dominate 75 percent of the reef biodiversity throughout the islands. As one of the most isolated marine ecosystems globally, 25 percent of the fish species are endemic. So you see fish on Maui that you cannot find anywhere else on Earth.

Shore Diving in Maui

Maui fish swarming coral at the Airport Beach dive site.You do not have to venture far from your Maui hotel to scuba dive amongst this incredibly unique ecosystem. Most dive spots require a short walk in your scuba equipment, minimal surface swim, and begin in 10 feet of water. An array of fish greets you during your first few breaths, including Longfin Bannerfish, Triggerfish (the official state fish of Hawaii), Pufferfish, colorful Parrotfish, and many varieties Wrasse.

Turtles make frequent companions during most Maui scuba dives! Plus, at every dive site, there is an abundance of moray eels, unlike anywhere else. You can also visit Mala Wharf in Lahaina, where it is almost guaranteed to see a White Tip Reef Shark sitting near a turtle or even Frogfish.

If you travel with family members who are not scuba divers, you can still get underwater shore diving without leaving them behind for the entire day. Shore diving in Lahaina with us provides you with the convenience of gearing up at the beach near your Maui hotel. You don’t have to spend your entire day dedicated to a boat diving excursion. Instead, complete two dives with us before lunch! We remove the travel time to faraway dive sites, negating the need to meet early in the morning. You meet us at 9 am and finish two dives at 1 pm.

Healthy Maui coral reefs provided perhaps my biggest concern about scuba diving near hotels. Sadly, coral reefs worldwide are in peril. While Hawaiian coral reefs are not exempt, they are certainly not experiencing devastation to the Great Barrier Reef’s likes in Australia. Agricultural Runoff, rising ocean temperatures, land development, overfishing, massive tourism, and even sunscreen contribute to coral reefs’ degradation. You can see this destruction throughout the Hawaiian islands, no matter how you choose to scuba dive.

When you encounter any swath of compromised coral reef with us, we use the opportunity to generate underwater awareness. It is essential to link how human behavior affects this delicate system that provides comprehensive coastal protection and hundreds of millions of dollars in yearly revenue. Sometimes one must experience an issue firsthand to care about it, pay for it, and hopefully do something about it. Coral reefs worldwide tend to remain healthier in undeveloped areas, of which few remain. But these areas experience challenges of their own, such as unregulated fishing practices.

Boat Diving in Maui

Makai Adventures scuba diving boat picking up divers at Lanai.While most Maui dive locations are accessible from shore, some require boat transportation. Two famous boat diving spots located off Maui are the crescent-shaped Molokini Crater (between Maui and Kahoolawe) and various dive sites around Lanai. The island of Lana’i is the closest neighbor to Maui. Advanced divers can also visit Molokai for the opportunity to experience the best Hammerhead Shark diving.

Scuba diving by boat near Lanai island provides impressive rock formations, where you can experience kicking your fins through small caverns and lava tubes. It is quite exhilarating to be out on the open ocean and descend into an abyss of geological formations that a limited number of people will ever get to see. The excitement of exploring depths of up to 130 feet makes that post-dawn check-in worth it. Eels, nudibranchs, frogfish, spiny lobsters, and the occasional turtle or white tip reef shark bring a delicate balance of sea life to the impressive underwater topography.

Molokini Crater is probably the most frequently visited snorkel and scuba dive site. The inside coral reef of this spot gets dominated by a variety of boat charters with novice swimmers and snorkelers. Luckily certified scuba divers can escape the crowd underwater. When the current is not pumping, your instructor can take you to explore the outer edges of the crater rim. This area is where the deeper depths thrive with schools of triggerfish, parrotfish, and damselfish. On calm days, Molokini Crater’s backside is an ideal playground for a scuba diver with an advanced certification because it features a wall of coral dropping to about 200 feet.

Just outside of Lahaina, Maui scuba divers craving a wreck dive get to visit the Carthaginian. Resting at about 100 feet, the Carthaginian got intentionally sunk in 2005. Since then, it has amassed new coral colonies that attract big schools of fish, Nudibranchs, and White Tip Reef Sharks.

The Hawaiian islands get exposed to a range of weather conditions, so all islands are profoundly affected by trade winds and swell. As a result, Maui’s ocean can be rough, which is something all scuba divers prone to seasickness must consider.

The Best Experience

If you want the best Maui dive experience though you cannot decide between shore and boat diving, try both options! Then you can descend from a mooring line near Lanai and walk in from the beach in Lahaina. Without a doubt, you will find great variety and an abundance of sea life at every Maui dive site. But no matter where and how you scuba dive, please be mindful of how lucky we are to experience firsthand this gorgeous Hawaiian marine environment.  You can take beginner lessons, a PADI course, or go scooter diving, but leave the ocean as untouched as you found it!

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