Skip to primary navigation Skip to content Skip to footer

Marine Life & Conservation

Scuba Diving Oahu is a dream come true thanks to the local and endemic marine life!

The water is bright blue, clear, and warm. Underwater topography includes unique, volcanic creations. Hawaii marine life flourishes around every colorful reef. Scuba diving in Oahu is the stuff of dreams!

Scientists estimate that there are 600 different species of tropical fish in Hawaii. And that’s just the fish! The best thing about these sea creatures is that 25% (twenty-five percent) of Hawaii marine life is endemic to the islands! That means that these species are found nowhere else in the world. Talk about a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The following are some of the most common and most wonderful encounters a diver is likely to experience while scuba diving in Oahu.




Besides the incredible amounts of fish, the most common marine life encounter is with honu, or the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle. These beautiful, majestic creatures are everywhere around Oahu. Watching them glide through the water with grace and power is a sight to behold.

Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles are friendly and confident. They will interact with divers as if they are old pals! It is common for a turtle to swim near or with a scuba diver, as long as the diver remains calm, since turtles are naturally curious and unafraid to approach a kind-looking human.

There are a few spots around the island where you can find something called a turtle car wash. This is exactly what it sounds like! Turtles will rest near a flourishing reef and raise their chins to the sky, which indicates to nearby fish that they are hoping to be cleaned. Fish will then come and eat the algae off the honu’s shell. It’s a beautiful display of marine life interdependence.


a close up of a fish

Contrary to what the media will tell you, sharks are not man killers! These creatures are often misunderstood and misrepresented. Gentle and curious animals, sharks are always very respectful to divers. They live by a complicated social hierarchical system, which we are able to witness with enough patience and investigation.

Pictured here is a Whitetip Reef Shark. These sharks are common around Oahu. During the day, they can often be found resting on the floor of a cave or cavern. These sharks hang out from 26 – 131 feet deep (8 – 40 meters), which means you may encounter them during a basic shallow dive! In Hawaiian, Whitetip Reef Sharks are known as Manō Lālākea. Other common shark species in the area include Grey Reef, Black Tip, Sand Bar, Galapagos, and Tiger Sharks.

If you’re interested in diving with sharks, don’t miss out! Oahu is a wonderful place to do it.


a seal on a rocky beach

The Hawaiian Monk Seal is highly endangered with only 1,400 individuals remaining. One other monk seal species exists (the Mediterranean Monk Seal), while a third monk seal species has already gone extinct (the Caribbean Monk Seal). Hawaiians take seriously the need to protect the disappearing species.

Due to the small remaining number, it is rare to see these gentle giants relaxing in the sun on the beach, and even more rare to see them swimming around the ocean. They are beautiful and curious creatures. When interacting with divers, they often inspect and maintain eye contact with the human to determine risk. Once understanding they are safe, they are known to be playful and friendly!


a fish swimming under water

Hawaii is home to three types of rays: manta rays, eagle rays, and sting rays. Manta rays are a significant species in Hawaiian culture and there are many protectionist laws in their favor. The three types of rays are found in different environments and in different locations around the island.

One of the Hawaiian words for ray is hihimanu, or “elegant bird,” which is such a perfect way to describe them! They truly fly through the water with grace and ease. At times rays can even be seen leaping out of the water! Scientists have said this is to knock particles off their skin or to aid in the birthing process, but Hawaiians see a much more spiritual meaning behind this action, including the transfer of energy from the underwater world into ours. One Hawaiian word for manta ray is hahalua, where “ha” means “breath,” and “lua” means “two.” This indicates that manta rays transcend the underwater and above-water realms of life, and live within both.


a bird swimming in water

Friendly and playful, dolphins are a diver’s best friend in Oahu. Spinner dolphins are the most common species. They travel in large pods and divers on the West side of Oahu spot them nearly every day! If you do not see them, you may be able to hear them singing in the distance. Dolphins are incredibly social creatures and interact with one another in many beautiful ways, such as coordinated swimming or fin petting.

Spinner dolphins got their name from the dance they perform on the surface. Groups of spinners are often seen making giant, spinning leaps from the water. They can make as many as four complete spins before entering the water again! These groups will also play with any objects in the water near them, including drift wood and litter.


a close up of a rock

Eels, or puhi in Hawaiian, are fish that like to hide in reef crevices and sand. They look like snakes, and several species live in Hawaii. Eels have a nocturnal lifestyle and stay hidden during the day. With small but often sharp teeth, eels like to feed on small fish, octopus and crustaceans. Divers and snorkelers sometimes see them with their mouth gaping. This is not to intimidate. It’s actually a breathing mechanism. Eels are mouth breathers whose mouths run air over the gills from the inside.



Octopus, or he’e in Hawaiian, are intelligent creatures that learn from experience. Octopi can change colors to match their surroundings. They have millions of pigment cells in the skin that expand or shrink when stimulated by the nervous system. When octopuses catch their food, they grip their prey by the suckers. During this, they produce a toxin they inject and paralyze into their food. Octopus have a parrot like beak they use to eat their prey. There’s so much more to learn about these interesting, insightful creatures.


Beyond this list of incredible creatures, you are bound to see eels, octopus, reef fish, and more! Book a scuba tour with Hawaii Eco Divers to start exploring the wonders under the sea.

underwater view of a coral


Hawaii Eco Divers is committed to protecting the environment and honoring our mother Ocean. We make a point to participate in Hawaii marine conservation efforts whenever possible in order to keep the islands beautiful and flourishing. Above all, we practice respect to our friends under the sea and do our best to leave the ocean as pure as we found it. Below are some of our partner companies and favorite organizations that defend our aina every day.

logo, company name

“At Ocean Scuba Dive, our goal is to share the greatest, weirdest, coolest and latest stuff about the ocean. Created with the idea of growing a community for like-minded ocean enthusiasts through its DiscoverDive and Defend values. Both through shareable and relatable content, our aim is to help people unlock the rest of the world through scuba diving and inspire others to love our oceans as much as we do — along with taking action to help protect it. So, whether you’re looking for your next unforgettable dive location or want to read the latest and greatest on our blog, Ocean Scuba Dive is the ideal place for you!”


Started by PADI in the  1980’s, Project AWARE is a multi-faceted marine conservation initiative around the world. The organization identifies as a “global movement for ocean protection powered by a community of adventurers.”

You can find Project AWARE initiatives everywhere around the world! Join the movement wherever you are. It’s as easy as picking up litter on a dive and reporting it online. We do our part with Hawaii marine conservation in exactly this way. Every bit helps!


One Ocean Conservation, a child company of One Ocean Diving, is a marine conservation group located in Hawaii. Through hosting pelagic shark dives, conducting global research, producing media and documentaries, and educating children, this company helps #savethesharks and #savetheocean every day!

In Oahu and around the world, One Ocean hosts beach clean-ups and educational campaigns to promote sustainability and marine conservation.

a drawing of a face


“Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii is a grassroots, local nonprofit organization run by a small team of dedicated staff and supported by passionate volunteers, just like you. We inspire local communities to care for their coastlines through fun, hands-on beach cleanups. We also coordinate educational programs, team building corporate cleanups, waste diversion services, public awareness campaigns and help others run their own beach cleanups.”