People flock to Poipu Beach year round for its epic snorkeling, a safe keiki (children) swimming pond, mellow surf breaks, grassy park facilities and to sunbathe on its powdery white sand. People aren’t the only ones who find Poipu Beach appealing, with many different types of wildlife who also call the beach park home.
Being able to see our animals in their natural habitat is superbly exciting for both adults and children, especially if you have never seen a Hawaiian Monk Seal or green sea turtle before. While it’s tempting to want to get close for a photo op, there are rules governing how close you can get that are strictly enforced by our beach lifeguards and animal protection volunteers.
Without further ado, here are a few residents you’ll meet when you visit Poipu Beach Park!
Hawaiian Monk Seal
Hawaiian Monk Seals, with their grey coat, white belly and impossible cute face, often choose Poipu Beach as their resting spot after a good feed. However, don’t let their cute face fool you. The Hawaiian Monk Seal, especially mommies with their pups, can become very aggressive when they feel threatened by humans. Sometimes their aggression results in a warning bark or even a bite. If you see a Hawaiian Monk Seal on the beach, do not approach it. The law requires that humans stay at least 150 feet away if they are in an unmarked area or outside of the barricades established by volunteers of the Kauai Monk Seal volunteer program. According to the National Wildlife Federation, there are only about 1,100 Hawaiian monk seals left in the wild. Because they are one of the only mammals endemic to the Hawaiian islands and are considered endangered, they are highly protected by the Federal Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act and Hawaii State law. Getting too close to one of these creatures could result in not only getting hurt, but a $50,000 fine and up to a year in prison.
Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles (Honu)
In the Disney movie Finding Nemo, Crush the turtle said it best – running into a green sea turtle while snorkeling in Kauai is like “whoa!” Known as the honu in Hawaiian, the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle loves to frequent Poipu Beach. It is not uncommon to spot a turtle feeding on seaweed while snorkeling in Poipu’s clear waters. Occasionally these large turtles come to shore to rest and bask in the sun. This species was almost extinct at one point due to over fishing. Today, Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles are protected by the Federal Endangered Species Act and Hawaii State Law. Because they are protected, people should admire them from at least 10 feet away and never attempt to ride, touch or feed them.
Kauai’s Reef Fish
Say it fast with us, “humu-humu-nuku-nuku-apuaa.” This colorful hawaiian fish is just one of the many underwater sea creatures that you might see while snorkeling at Poipu Beach. Other varieties of fish are the Parrot fish, Trigger fish, Butterfly fish, Flounder and the Devil Scorpion fish. Two calm protected bays with a sand tombolo between them offer choice locations at Poipu Beach for exploring the underwater coral reef habitat by snorkel.
In addition to the many varieties of fish at Poipu Beach, the spiny Hawaiian sea urchin, or wana (pronounced “vah-na”), is a beauty to look at and admire. These spiny creatures are often found in tidepools, reef flats and shallow reef slopes. Their spines are their defense mechanism and accidentally stepping on one could result in many painful spikes inside of your foot. Some types of wana carry a poisonous venom. If you do accidentally step on a sea urchin while at Poipu Beach, see the lifeguards for assistance and in many cases, you may want to go to the hospital to have the spines removed. The spines are very brittle and using tweezers or your fingers to pull out the spines will likely result in them breaking further. At home remedies for removing wana spines include soaking your foot in vinegar, which breaks down the calcium-carbonate spines.
Kauai doesn’t have any snakes, but Moray Eels bear a similar resemblance with long bodies that can grow up to 3 ½ feet long and slither underwater. Moray Eels, called puhi in Hawaiian, live in Hawaii’s coral reefs and love to hide in holes. While snorkeling, you may be lucky enough to see an eel peeping its head out of a hole or moving from one hole to another. Do not stick your hands in holes or crevices when snorkeling because you never know when it could be the home of a Moray Eel. They are timid creatures, but have been known to bite when they feel threatened.
Kauai Sea Cucumbers are harmless creatures that attach themselves to reefs and inside of tidepools. They are speckled brown and white to camouflage themselves with the reef and love to feed on little crustaceans. It is ok to pet them gently underwater and feel their slimy skin, but they should remain in the water at all time.
Kauai’s Feral Chickens
You may be a little confused at the idea of chickens on the beach, but in Poipu it is quite common to find chickens throughout the beach park. Kauai’s feral chicken population increased greatly after Hurricane Iniki when many chicken coops were blown away by the wind. There was no way to identify whose chicken belonged to whom and with no natural predator, their numbers grow exponentially. Most visitors find the chickens to be an endearing part of the beach culture at Poipu and you can even take a Kauai Chicken home with you. We would warn you that they can be quite fearless when food is left out in the open and will have no problem inviting themselves to your picnic.
When in doubt, always check with County lifeguards for advice on the rules of approaching our beach and ocean marine wildlife. Many of the rules were created for the animals protection and the beachgoer. Next time you are at Poipu Beach, have fun exploring the tidepools and underwater snorkeling. You never know what you will find or who you’ll meet!