On the Southeast Tip of Oahu in the shadow of Makapu’u Lighthouse, you will find SeaLife Marine Park. It’s nothing like SeaWorld or an aquarium in the mainland. It’s a very small park, but it’s very important to Hawaii!
SeaLife Marine Park is the only place in the United States with a Sea Turtle breeding program. They breed endangered Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles, which are distinctly different than Green Sea Turtles in other parts of the world. Here in Hawaii, our turtles enjoy basking in the sand and coming out of the water to eat algae on land. This behavior has never been observed before in any other sea turtle. (Usually they only come on land to lay eggs.)
In addition, the turtles here have been observed hunting fish, and eating different kinds of foods than Green Sea Turtles in other areas. That’s why right now, the folks at NOAA are fighting to get the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle classified as its own subspecies.
The SeaLife Marine Park turtle breeding program is therefore very important, because without them, the population here in the islands would be in great danger. SeaLife hatches, grows, and releases hundreds of turtles every year. This supspecies was nearly extinct until the breeding program began. Now, there are an estimated 2,000 Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles! This isn’t as much as we would like to see, but it’s a lot.
I recommend that you visit the park or donate to them simple because of the importance of the turtle breeding program, but it’s not all that they do! They also rescue and rehab endangered sea birds. If you go, you might get to see a brown-footed boobie or a Hawaiian albatross! You never know what birds they’ll be tending to in their seabird rehab area.
SeaLife also takes on dolphins who have retired from service with the United States Navy. What they did for the Navy is sometimes classified, but dolphins are used for all kinds of things like testing the affects of sonar on sea life and finding mines underwater. These dolphins now perform in the Aloha Dolphins show twice a day, and are available to swim with if you make a reservation and pay extra. My husband did the Royal Dolphin Swim Package and absolutely loved it.
Another fun thing to do is go feed the love birds. I don’t know how this exhibit got started, but it’s fun to take pictures in the lovebirds enclosure because they are so colorful.
If you live in Hawaii, I recommend buying the yearly membership. It comes with perks like private parties for holidays, and discounts on all the merchandise, dolphin encounters, etc. It’s well worth the fee, and remember: You’re supporting a good cause.
If you’re just visiting us here on Oahu, I still recommend you go. I know locals here in Hawaii appreciate when tourists take an interest in supporting our local land and animal conservation, and supporting SeaLife is a great way to do that.
It may not be a big, fancy park; but they do a lot of good and that’s what really matters!