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Maui Dive Sites: Shore vs Boat Diving

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

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

Even as a seasoned PADI scuba instructor, my first beach dive was on 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.

My first Maui scuba dive was blessed. 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. 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. But, 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.

Maui Scuba Diving Adventures

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 in the world, 25 percent of the fish species are endemic. So you see fish on Maui that you cannot find anywhere else on Earth.

Maui Scuba Diving at the Beach

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 bright Bannerfish, active Triggerfish (the official state fish of Hawaii), big Pufferfish, colorful Parrotfish, and many varieties of Wrasse.

Turtles are frequent companions during a Maui scuba dive, and there is an abundance of moray eels at all dive sites unlike anywhere else. There is even a dive spot called Mala Wharf, where seeing is almost guaranteed you will see a White Tip Reef Shark sitting near a Frogfish or two.

The convenience of being able to meet at the dive site, get suited up to enter the water, and complete two dives all before lunch means that our guests are not spending an entire day of their vacation dedicated to a dive excursion. For those who have family members that do not dive, it is increasingly important that they can experience what they love without leaving the rest of the family behind for the day. Removing the time it takes to travel to a faraway dive site negates the need for early morning meeting times as well. We usually meet you at 9 am, and complete two dives by 1 pm.

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

Coral reef tends to remain healthier in undeveloped areas, of which few remain, but these areas experience challenges of their own such as unregulated fishing practices. 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 not only comprehensive coastal protection and food but also 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.

Maui Scuba Diving on Boats

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 (in between Maui and Kahoolawe) as well as various dive sites around Lanai. The island of Lana’i is the closest neighbor to Maui. Also, Advanced divers can visit Molokai for the opportunity to experience the best Hammerhead Shark diving.

Scuba diving by boat off 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 the backside of Molokini 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 that crave wreck diving get to visit the Carthaginian wreck resting at about 100 feet. The Carthaginian was intentionally sunk in 2005 and has amassed new coral colonies that attract various fish species, Nudibranchs, and the occasional White Tip Reef Shark.

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

Best Maui Scuba Diving Sites

If you want the best Maui dive experience but cannot decide between shore and boat diving, we always say: try both options. Then you can descend from a mooring line and walk in from the beach. Without a doubt, during your scuba dive, you will find a great variety and abundance of sea life at most Maui dive sites.

No matter where you scuba dive, please be mindful of how lucky we are to experience this gorgeous marine environment firsthand. Whether you want t to learn, take a certification course, or go for a scuba adventure, leave the spot just as untouched as you found it.

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