This is something of a murky and hard to research subject. However, you may have noticed that when you snorkel in the Western Pacific Ocean or in the Indian Ocean, the Green Sea Turtles you see are larger and have redder shells.
Meanwhile, when you snorkel in the Eastern Pacific Ocean around Hawaii, the Green Sea Turtles are more of a black color.
If you’ve been to other areas such as the Caribbean or South America, you may have seen Green Sea Turtles with different coloring as well, since NOAA identifies eleven “Distinct Population Segments.”
Note: They are not called “Green Sea Turtles” because of the shell color. Rather, they are named this way because they have green fat lining the insides of their bodies.
Curently, the Distinct Population Segments are only classified as “intra-species variations.” Chelonia Mydras, (commonly known as the “Green Sea Turtle,”) is considered a single species. In other words, these turtles who all look very different and who likely don’t breed are classified as the same for now.
It should be noted that the usual reason to single out a “subspecies” is if Distinct Population Segments cannot breed with each other. I would point out that there is no evidence that these DPS are breeding. And if they are, they is no evidence that they can produce viable offspring.
(Think of horses and donkeys. They can mate and make a mule, but mules are sterile. A horse and a donkey cannot produce viable offspring with the ability to procreate.)
So to recap: We don’t know if different Distinct Population Segments of Green Sea Turtle can (or do) breed with each other, as this behavior has not been observed. This means that we need to ask: Are these animals sufficiently distinctive enough to warrant separate classifications? (If they are, each DPS could be classified as a subspecies.)
I am arguing that they are definitely different enough.
Green sea turtles from the Western Pacific and India Oceans are much larger, and live on a diet of things like squid, jellyfish, mangrove fruit, and sea grass. Since they live in warmer water, different foods are available to them. The difference in diet may be what causes them to have different pigment and to grow larger. Whatever the reason, they are very easily distinguished from their fellows.
Green Sea Turtles from the Eastern Pacific (most notably from Hawaii) are sometimes called “Black Sea Turtles” due to their dark coloring. These turtles are smaller on average, and their shells are more rounded. They have no access to tropical foods like mangrove fruit or sea grass. Instead, they seem to eat mostly algae and fish. In addition to these differences, this (I’m calling it) subspecies likes to come out of the water and bask. As far as I can tell, no one has observed this behavior in Green Sea Turtles anywhere else in the world.
So between the two types of Green Sea Turtle I have observed closely, I see a huge difference.
Why does this matter?
Well, if these eleven Distinct Population Segments can be classified as subspecies and are deemed significantly different, then each subspecies gets to be listed separately on the endangered species list.
Right now, the DPS are listed separately on a tentative basis. However, Hawaiian and Chamorro cultural proponents are fighting that classification because they want to be able to hunt sea turtles again. If these populations were classified as subspecies, they would have a better chance of staying on the Endangered Species List separately and they would be eligible for more long-term protection.
Think about it: These two types of Green Sea Turtles likely can’t breed with each other. They’re extremely different. Having them considered one species means that the populations could be assessed together to determine numbers! They’re far less likely to qualify for ongoing protection that way.
I hope that we’ll be able to get all eleven Distinct Population Segments of Green Sea Turtle classified as subspecies so that they will be eligible for separate protections in spite of any legal challenges.
What about the cultural heritage of hunting of these turtles?
This will sound awful but here it is: I’m Portuguese. That means my cultural heritage is invading foreign lands and killing their inhabitants. And just because it’s my heritage, that doesn’t make it okay. I am allowed to be ashamed of that part of my heritage and to know that my ancestors were wrong when they did all that hunting of natives for sport.
So maybe, if I can give up the parts of my heritage that were wrong, then so can everyone else.
If the Native populations of Guam and Hawaii can’t admit that killing these magical creatures is a mistake, then we have to do what we can to make sure it’s illegal to kill them. That’s why I want to ask that you write to NOAA and request that Green Sea Turtles Distinct Population Segments be recognized as separate subspecies. Please ask that their protections as eleven different endangered subspecies will be kept in place to prevent hunting them in the Hawaiian islands or Guam.
It’s rare that you see a Honu (Hawaiian word for green sea turtle) or Haagan (Chamorro word for Green Sea Turtle) when swimming because there aren’t enough of them. Let’s make sure that future generations get to enjoy these amazing creatures and that the people of today are not allowed to hunt them to extinction.
I’ve been trying to get out and see as many beaches as possible since I moved from Guam to Hawaii. Oahu is a beautiful island, and it will take a long time for me to explore it all.
One of the most famous beaches is in a town called Kailua; it’s called Lanikai Beach. Off the coast of the beach, there are two islands you can kayak to. They are a bird sanctuary, and tours are offered. However, it’s a little dangerous to swim to them (since it’s past the wave break.)
I only went as far as where the waves break. It seemed wise since I’d been warned about currents and rip tides.
So far, this is the beach with the most coral. It’s shallow for hundreds of feet out, and the corals are beautiful. (Though you can see evidence of bleaching- same as everywhere.)
Unfortunately, Lanikai is very sandy. This means the water quality isn’t often as good as it would be in a rockier place. The day I went, the visibility was only about 15 feet, and I wasn’t thrilled with it.
I saw three turtles. Two sped away pretty quickly. Maybe it was too early (it was shortly after sunrise.) But one let me swim with it and take some pictures, which was cool.
There are showers nearby at the Kaulia Beach Park, but I went to Lanukai Beach specifically and there are no amenities there. I suppose you could drive over to Kaulia Park after you swim, since it is only about a half mile away.
There is no parking lot, but your GPS will take you to a neighborhood that has street parking available. There are no lockers. If you don’t have a car key that is separate from the key fob, I suggest getting a keypad door lock for your car. Snorkeling in Hawaii is great, but it’s not a good place to hide your key somewhere on your car.
Anyway, if you’re here on vacation, make sure to check out Surfline to make sure the waves are not too high, and to also check the jellyfish report. As always, be safe!
Tangussion: Snorkeling in Shallow water; no diving. Access: Everyone.
Out past Two Lover’s Point down a thoroughly sketchy road, you will find Tanguisson Beach. It is the site of an old power plant. Now that the plant is shut down, you can go swimming in the area where the hot water used to come out. You can even see some fish there. However, people mostly go to Tanguisson to sit on the beach. The sand is white, the water is blue, and everything is beautiful.
If you look to the right side, you will see a path hidden at the edge of a cove. Following this path takes you to the second part of Tanguisson. This has some iconic rocks that people usually take really stunning pictures with.
The water is shallow at Tanguisson, but you can swim there. Once upon a time in 2016, it used to be a place where you could see hundreds of sea urchins. However, an explosion in the puffer fish population happened in the spring of 2017, and the puffer fish ate all the sea urchins.
Much of the coral bleached in the big bleaching events in the summer of 2015 and 2017. However, there are still some fish and corals living there. The key thing to remember is to not go past the reef. This is an area that is known for dangerous tides, sharp rocks, and no lifeguards. If you go on a weekday, you will likely be the only one there. If you are swept out to sea, no one will know.
Given that, I recommend that you go swim in the shallows. Look at the fish, take pictures with the rocks, and lounge on the empty beach. Collect sea glass, which is often found there. Have a picnic. But don’t go beyond the reef.
Gab Gab: Snorkeling or Diving in Deep Water.
If you are looking for some deeper water, Gab Gab Beach is one of the best places to go. It has easy water access because of the stairs, and it even has showers. This is a very popular place for both snorkeling and scuba diving.
However, Gab Gab is on the Navy Base. That means that if you don’t have a military ID, you need to find someone who does in order to go there. This is kind of a bummer if you are a tourist, or a local with no military ID.
On the upside, if you can go there, you will find it less crowded than other places because access is restricted.
I like to go to Gab Gab because it is easy to get into the water. There is no long wade or swim to get out to the reef. And, the water is calm because it is inside of a harbor and is therefore protected from currents and tides that might otherwise prove problematic.
I also like to go to Gab Gab because it is a brilliant place to see turtles. They tend to enjoy spending time in some of the more shallow areas where they can bask in the sun. They also swim over to the boats at the port, and eat algae off the sides. Any day that I go snorkel or dive and see a turtle is a good day in my book. They really are magical.
Gab Gab was effected by the bleaching event in the summer of 2017, and some of the corals in the more shallow areas died. However, the deeper reef is still intact and as beautiful as ever.
Gun Beach: Snorkeling or diving in deep water. Access: Everyone.
Another fabulous place to snorkel or dive is Gun Beach. A quick word of warning: About every six months, someone dies at Gun Beach. Therefore, I need you to listen up to the warning I am about to give you:
This is a reef that is not enclosed in any way. There are waves, currents, and tides. If you see white caps when you look out, do not get in the water. Just hop back in your car and go to a different spot for the day.
The people who die at Gun Beach are usually scuba divers who go out too far, and then get caught in a current and pulled out to sea. They only find the bodies about half the time. Please don’t leave the safety of the reef, and do not go out when the water is choppy.
Most of the time, the water is smooth as glass and it is perfectly safe to snorkel or dive at Gun Beach. You park out by the Beach Bar, and then walk out to the water. Look for the pipes, and follow them out to the reef.
The water is colder than anywhere else on the island. If you are used to Hawaii water temperatures or colder, you will be fine. However, if you are used to the tropics, I recommend wearing a rash guard and pants.
The reef is beautiful. There are so many kinds of corals and fish! A lot of times you see bigger things too, like giant porcupine puffers, octopus, and huge schools of trigger fish. This is easily one of my favorite places to snorkel, and the swim out really isn’t that bad. I would note that the swim out is much easier at high tide, so keep that in mind. However, you can really make it out at any time of day.
As long as you do it on a calm day, Gun Beach is amazing. I highly recommend it.
The Spanish Steps: Snorkel in Shallow Water; no Diving. Access: Restricted.
The Spanish Steps is another one of the beaches with restricted access. Like Gab Gab, it is on Navel Base Guam. Unlike Gab Gab, there is no easy access to this snorkel spot. You will have to hike in, and the trail is steep and dangerous.
If you go, I recommend hiking boots, long pants, and climbing gloves for the parts so steep that you have to use the ropes provided. It’s not a long high, but it is a very intense high. I wouldn’t bring small children or anyone with any major physical limitations.
However, if you can make the hike, this tiny pocket of life is really very pretty. Obviously you can’t dive there, but the snorkeling is awesome!
The Spanish Steps are at the very end of Orote Point. You can’t go out into the open water because the waves and currents are crazy. However, inside the shelter of the rocks, you can see all kinds of fish and larger marine animals.
I have seen some of the best anemones, eels, and schools of fish that I have ever seen on Guam at the Spanish Steps.
Go at High Tide. It is the only time you will be able to swim over the coral. If you go at low tide, you can’t do anything except float in a little pool of water. At high tide, you can glide over coral gardens and see lots of cool fish.
Fish Eye Marine Park: Snorkeling or diving in deep water. Access: Everyone.
Fish Eye Marine Park is my favorite place on Guam. There is no easy access. At high tide, it is a long swim out. At low tide, it is a slippery and dangerous walk. However, once you get past the long, shallow coral shelf, you will see the most amazing things!
There are a lot of advantages to going to Fish Eye. First, it’s easy to see where to get in. You just head out under the walkway for the observatory. The parking lot is right there. Once you get into deep water, you have so many options!
Fish Eye has a double reef, which means that you can swim along and follow the reef to the left or right. However, you can also go straight out through the deep water. I know that sounds scary. The first time I did it, I was nervous. However, you soon come to a second reef spanning hundreds of meters out to the wave break and full of corals and life.
Another great thing to do at Fish Eye is to swim out to the left. Once you get past the rows of sea grass, you can swim to the left in a HUGE area called the Piti Bomb Hole Preserve. There are so many deep areas where bombs made holes in WWII, and the edges are ringed with exciting corals.
I have seen turtles, sharks, huge schools of all kinds of fish, a barracuda, and so much more! It is the only place around Guam that I have ever seen cowrie shells. There are angelfish and spiny toad fish and all kinds of wonderful things. It is definitely worth checking out.
If you bring scuba gear, I recommend swimming once around the base of the Fish Eye Observatory. It looks like a giant tin can under water, but a huge variety of fish live there because the Fish Eye people regularly throw chum in the water. Then head to the left towards the Piti Bomb Holes, where you will find plenty of deep places to explore.
Fish Eye is often a little crowded. However, there is still nowhere else I love as much. Just be sure to wear a long-sleeve rash guard and long pants. Maybe even a bandanna over your hair and gloves. Jelly fish are often sighted there, and they cant sting you through clothes. It’s better safe than sorry since you want to make sure you have a good time.
If you don’t have clothes to wear in the water, there is a dive shop right across the street from the Marine Park, and they have all kinds of cool options.
Old Wives Beach: Shallow and Deep Water Snorkeling. Diving only by boat. Access: Restricted.
Old Wives Beach is one of the most dangerous beaches I have ever been to. If you feel the need to go, do it at high tide and make sure there are no storms in the area. It is a long slog to get out to the deeper water. The rocks are sharp, and often the waves can be forceful.
Once you get out to where you can easily swim, you have options. To your left you will see a little island, and on the other side of that is Dadi Beach. There are often spinner dolphins sighted there.
To the right is Tarzan Cave and Orote Point.
The sea floor is littered with trash. The military dumped a lot of things there during the war. Make sure you don’t touch anything if you are diving. The military believes that there could be un-exploded munitions down there.
There are lots of turtles and other large animals who like to hide among the trash. If you dive there, it will have to be on a boat out of the Agat Marina, because you would never get out to the deep water with gear on.
That said, I have seen some schools of fish, a dolphin, and several turtles. So, if you are willing to brave the waves, tides, and sharp rocks, you might see some cool stuff.
Tumon Bay: Shallow Snorkeling; No Diving. Access: Everyone
Tumon Bay is the area where all the resorts are. If you stay at any of the major hotels, this is what you will see from your window and this is the place you can walk to the water.
The water in Tumon Bay is very shallow, even at high tide. There are not many places that you won’t be able to stand up. As long as you stay inside the bay, it is a perfectly safe place to be. However, some people like to go out to the edge of the bay and jump into the deep water. I actually watched someone do this, and they were swept out to sea. The recue crews had a very fast response time, and they were there within minutes. However, they never found the guy’s body.
It’s fine to do a drift dive out there past the reef with one of the tour companies. When a boat is monitoring you and you have dive gear and a safety sausage (required for all boat dives on Guam) then you are safer. But as a swimmer with just a snorkel mask, you chances are not so good.
So what can you see in Tumon Bay? Well, count on lots and lots of trigger fish. The most common kind that you will see are called Picasso Trigger Fish here, but in Hawaii I noted that they are called Black Bar Trigger Fish. Either way, we have a lot of them in Tumon Bay. We also have ells, schools of various baby fish, and all kinds of other stuff.
Wear coral shoes even though it seems like the sand is safe. Lots of things live in that sand, and from long-horned cowfish to eels, you don’t want to step on them.
There is a very strong current when there are storms. This can make it a real challenge without fins. Don’t go in the water when the current is really strong because it will suck you over to Gun Beach and out to sea.
Most dives on Guam are done from a boat, because shore access is limited. There are several options for companies to take you diving, but go with MDA. They are the best, and have access to the most places.
You will need a safety sausage to do a boat dive on Guam. Most boat dives are drift dives because of the currents, and you need to have a way to signal the boat to come pick you up. You can rent all the gear you need except for the safety sausage, so bring one or be prepared to buy one.
For more than a year there was a turtle living at Fish Eye Marine Park. He ate the food that they threw in the water for the fish, and visited with the tourists. Some people called him “Larry,” and other people called him “Crush.”
I don’t know what he called himself.
However, he had a small metal tag under each front flipper. One said NOAA Maui USA, and the other said PI2775. He was a green sea turtle who was approximately 50 years of age, and he had a girl turtle in the Piti Bomb Holes near by that he seemed to visit with.
In Mid-July, the tour operators at Fish Eye watched as people from the Department of Agriculture came and took Larry the turtle away.
They said they were taking him “to study,” according to the tour operators.
However, when we called the Department of Agriculture, they claimed that the turtle “was a nuisance” and so as moved “to the other side of the island.”
Now of course, this was not his first time being caught on Guam. The Marine Biologists at Underwater World took him for study. They weighed him, measured him, and then released him on the other side of the island.
He swam right back, because he enjoys people and food.
However, after the Department of Agriculture claims to have taken him “to the other side of the island,” he did not swim back.
He was a very strong swimmer, and you can be sure that he was capable. How can you be sure, you ask? Well, the people at Underwater World were actually hoping that they could find some evidence that his rear flipper (which was damaged) made it too difficult for him to be in the wild.
They hoped this because they have a rescued sea turtle in the aquarium already, and they hoped for a second.
However, according to the laws governing the treatment of an endangered species, if they are found to be able to survive on their own, they cannot be “rescued.”
Ergo, we know that if the turtle had actually been released by the Department of Agriculture, he would have swam back as he had done before.
We cannot make conclusions from the information that we have. However, we can know two things for sure.
1. Turtle meat fetches a high price on Guam and on the other islands in the chain, because the Native people eat turtle. They know that these turtles are endangered, but some choose to do it anyway. Anyone who took the turtle to sell would have made a LOT of money.
2. They were very suspicious on the phone and asked for my husband’s full name and information before claiming that the turtle was moved. If they are keeping track of who is asking, then one would suggest that they have a reason to be worried.
I am not saying that the Department of Agriculture sold the turtle. However, I am saying without a doubt that they were the last people to have him, and that in two months, he has still not been sighted anywhere else.
If they did not sell him, then their choice to move him certainly seems to have brought about his untimely demise, leaving his girlfriend single and removing his genes from the species.
Furthermore, I spoke with several tour operators who said the initial complaint against the turtle was falsified.
They claim that he was good for business and made the tourists happy and that they would never have done anything that led to his removal.
It is certainly suspicious.
I hope that there will be an investigation, since selling an endangered species for profit is obviously illegal. However, given the diminished funding of the EPA, I worry that justice will not be served.
I have also not seen the female turtle who was hanging around the Piti Bomb Holes near Fish Eye. However, I am not sure that not seeing her is significant. Green Sea Turtles are not social, and it is possible that she was just around to “visit” a boy turtle for a bit.
This is what she looked like:
If you look, you can see that you doesn’t have a tail that extends past her shell, or claws on her flippers. Only males have those traits (which is actually to hold onto the female’s shell.)
She was a little smaller than the male turtle, but they seemed similar in size and age.
The point of this post is that if anyone has any information about the green sea turtle lovingly called “Larry” or “Crush” who used to live at Fish Eye Marine Park, please let me know.