Maui Dive Sites: How Shore Diving compares to Boat Diving?
Maui dive sites are unique because you can choose from shore diving and boat diving. Personally, I had never been shore diving until moving to Maui. After many years of working in scuba diving from different boats, I had honestly never considered the idea of shore diving. Surely all of the best sea life is found far away from shore, right? Wow, I was wrong. Scuba divers can shore dive at excellent Maui dive sites like Airport Beach and Mala Wharf.
My first Maui scuba dive was blessed. It was a calm day and I entered the water from shore with ease. Within 10 minutes of combing over a healthy stretch of coral reef a Manta Ray appeared in about 20 feet of water. Its large wing span was at least 10 feet! I hovered over the coral mesmerized by the Manta Ray’s grace and movements. Then I spent an incredible 20 MINUTES swimming along side her. She slowly cruised over the reef and continuously examined my alien presence. Needless to say 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. In that moment, Banyan Tree Divers Scuba was born.
One of the most common questions Banyan Tree Divers Scuba receives is: “How does Maui shore diving compare to boat diving?” The answer always centers around the needs of our guests. If someone is looking for the experience of being out on the water and doing deep dives, then there is simply no comparison. We refer these inquiries to a nearby boat company in Lahaina. But, ultimately shore diving wins most of the time because divers get a convenient meeting time and easy access to fantastic marine life. Plus, from the shore divers get to see the number one Maui dive site, the excellent Mala Wharf.
Maui Dive Sites
Maui dive sites are blessed with vast stretches of fringing reef that run along the south and west coastline. On calm days one can see the intricate coral formations right through the water. Over 20% of the 90 or so Hawaiian species of coral are endemic, and almost half of the coral species are considered reef builders as opposed to soft corals (Cortney Cameron, “Hawaiian Coral Reefs”). Open exposure to El Nino storms, however, curb reef development and thus four robust coral species dominate 75% of the reef biodiversity throughout the islands. As one of the most isolated marine ecosystems in the world, 25% of the fish species encountered are endemic and cannot be found anywhere else on Earth.
Maui Shore Diving
One does not have to go far to experience this incredibly unique ecosystem. Most shore dive sites require minimal surface swims and our descent begins in about 10ft of water. Upon those first few breaths we are greeted with an array of fishes including yellow tang, trigger fish (or the humuhumunukunukuapua’a, Hawaii’s state fish), trumpet fish, puffer fish, parrot fish, and many varieties of wrasse. Turtles are common companions on our shore dives, and the abundance of moray eels at all dive sites are unlike anywhere else we have dived. A few sites almost guarantee a reef shark siting with 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 are able to experience what they love without leaving the rest of the family behind for the day. Removing the time it takes to travel to an off shore dive site negates the need for early morning check in as well. We usually meet at 9am and finish two dives by 1pm.
Perhaps one of the biggest concerns regarding shore diving is the health of the coral. Sadly, coral reefs worldwide are currently in peril, and while Hawaii’s 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, heavy tourism, and even sunscreen contribute to the degradation of the reefs. This can be witnessed throughout the islands whether diving from shore or a boat. 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. When we encounter any swath of compromised coral, we use the opportunity to generate awareness of how human behavior affects these delicate systems that provide not only coastal protection and food for the surrounding community, but also generate hundreds of millions of dollars in recreational revenue yearly. Sometimes one must experience an issue firsthand to care about it, and hopefully do something about it.
Maui Boat Diving
While most Maui dive sites are accessible from shore, some require boat transportation. The most famous boat diving options are located off Maui, such as the crescent shaped Molokini Crater in between Maui and Kaho’olawe, as well as various dive sites around Lana’i, which is the closest neighbor to Maui. Advanced divers also have the opportunity to make a Hammerhead Shark dive near Moloka’i.
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 140ft make that post dawn check in worth it. Lana’i diving is best known for its impressive rock formations where one can experience swimming through small caverns and lava tubes. Eels, nudibranchs, frogfish, spiny lobster, and the occasional turtle or white tip reef shark bring a nice balance of sea life to the impressive topography.
Molokini Crater is probably one of the most frequently visited Maui dive sites. The inside of the crater is dominated by a variety of snorkel charters and novice swimmers. Luckily it’s possible for scuba divers to escape the crowd. When the current is not pumping, divers get to explore the outer edges of the crater where deeper depths can be found teaming with schools of tang, parrot fish, and sergeant majors. On calm days the backside of Molokini is an ideal playground for advanced divers 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.
Because the Hawaiian islands are so exposed to a range of weather conditions, all islands are heavily affected by trade winds and swell. This is something all scuba divers prone to sea sickness must consider before choosing which Maui dive sites to visit.
Which Maui Dive Sites Should I Scuba Dive?
To those that want to experience the best variety of diving that Maui has to offer, and just can’t decide between boat and shore diving, we always say, “Why not try both?” Without a doubt, a great variety and abundance of sea life can be found at most Maui dive sites, whether descending from a mooring or walking in from the beach.
No matter where you dive, please be mindful of how lucky we are to experience this gorgeous marine environment firsthand, and leave it just as untouched as you found it.
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