Maui Dive Sites: Shore vs Boat Diving
How to Scuba Dive in Maui
Maui dive sites are unique because you can choose from excellent shore and boat diving! Shore diving is easy. You can put on your scuba diving equipment and enter from a local beach. In Lahaina, there is no need to wake up early for a boat charter to discover the best of Maui underwater.
Even as a seasoned PADI scuba instructor, my first shore dive was in Maui. I had worked for many years on different scuba diving boats, so I didn’t even consider 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 can be excellent, and it is suitable for both certified and beginner divers. 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 and at that moment Banyan Tree Divers Maui was born.
But how does scuba diving from the beach compare with boat diving? Our answer always centers around the specific needs of each individual diver or group. For example, when someone needs to experience being on a dive boat and diving deeper than 80 feet, then boat diving checks the boxes! We would refer certified divers to any of the three local dive shops with a boat in Lahaina.
Shore diving wins most of the time because scuba divers get flexible start times, coupled with convenient and easy access to all of the marine life. You definitely see more Hawaiin Green Turtles shore diving in Lahain than boat diving anywhere in Maui! Plus, even introductory divers can experience Maui’s number one scuba location, the excellent Mala Wharf in Lahaina. Mala Wharf has a maximum depth of 30 feet.
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 ocean. Over 20 percent of the 90-plus Hawaiian coral species are endemic, and almost half of the coral species are considered reef builders instead of the soft corals found in today’s more ancient reefs.
Extensive exposure to El Nino storms has limited the development of coral reef varieties. Four robust coral species dominate 75 percent of the reef biodiversity throughout the Hawaiian islands. As one of the most isolated marine ecosystems globally, 25 percent of Hawaii’s fish species are endemic. You can scuba dive near fish that you cannot find anywhere else on Earth.
Shore Diving in Maui
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 of 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. Of course, you can visit Mala Wharf in Lahaina, where it is almost guaranteed to see White Tip Reef Sharks laying along the sand.
If you travel with family members who are not scuba divers, you can still go shore diving without leaving your family for the entire day. Shore diving in Lahaina provides the convenience of scuba diving near your Maui hotel. You don’t have to spend your entire day dedicated to a boat diving excursion. Also no boat, no sea sickness. Instead, you can complete two shore dives before lunchtime.
Maui’s coral reefs remain my biggest concern about scuba diving near countless hotels and cruise ships. Sadly, worldwide the majority of coral reefs sit in peril. While Hawaiian coral reefs are not exempt, they are certainly not experiencing devastation like the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The nearshore ocean cannot take the stress of modern-day life. 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 if you choose shore or boat diving, or both.
When you encounter any swath of compromised coral reefs, 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 so many 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 extremely unregulated fishing practices.
Boat Diving in Maui
You can access most Maui dive locations from shore, but everything else requires a boat. Maui’s two famous boat diving spots are the crescent-shaped Molokini Crater (between Maui and Kahoolawe) and Lanai’s Cathedrals. The island of Lana’i sits closest to Maui divided by a fairly calm channel. Advanced divers can also visit Molokai for the opportunity to experience some of the best Hammerhead Shark diving in the world. Go Hammerhead diving in June to see 100 sharks!
Scuba diving by boat near the island of Lanai provides impressive rock formations, where you can experience kicking your fins through small caverns and lava tubes. It is pretty 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. However, 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 could be Hawaii’s most frequently visited snorkel and scuba dive site. The inside coral reef 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. The deeper depths thrive in this area with schools of triggerfish, parrotfish, and damselfish. On calm days Molokini Crater’s backside makes an ideal playground for scuba divers with advanced certifications. The back wall drops 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 various weather conditions, so all islands are profoundly affected by trade winds and swell. Maui’s ocean can be rough, which all scuba divers prone to seasickness must consider.
Your Best Scuba Experience
If you want the best Maui dive experience but still can’t decide between shore and boat diving, go for both options! One day you can beach dive around Lahaina, and the next you can descend down a mooring line near Lanai. Without a doubt, scuba divers encounter a great variety and abundance of sea life at most Maui dive sites. But no matter where and how you scuba dive in Maui, please remain mindful to experience Hawaii’s marine life with respect. You can take beginner lessons, a PADI course, or go scooter diving, but leave Maui’s ocean as untouched as you found it!