Molokini Crater Hawaii is a crescent-shaped, partially submerged volcanic crater located off the southern coast of Maui. This unique geological feature and popular tourist destination has a rich history, both geologically and culturally, and is also one of Maui’s top snorkeling spots!

Continue reading to dive deeper into the past, present, and future of Molokini Crater Hawaii. Plus, discover more about our Maui Snorkeling tours that take you to this iconic destination. Whether you join us for a morning excursion or opt for one of our afternoon outings, our Maui Snorkeling tours promise an unforgettable adventure!

Geological History

Molokini Crater is believed to have formed about 230,000 years ago through volcanic activity. It is the result of an eruption that occurred when magma rising from the earth’s mantle reached the water’s surface and caused a violent steam explosion. This type of volcanic activity is known as a phreatomagmatic eruption.

Archaeological findings, including stone sinkers and lures, indicate that early Hawaiians frequented Molokini for fishing. They likely also collected seabirds, eggs, and feathers from the area.

The crater has an area of 23 acres and rises about 161 feet above sea level at its highest point and dips down to about 300 feet below the water’s surface at its deepest.


Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Cultural History

Historically, Molokini Crater Hawaii played a significant role in the daily lives of ancient Hawaiians, primarily as a valuable fishing ground. The islet, which was part of the Honuaula District of Maui, was highly regarded for its rich marine ecosystem. This abundant marine life made Molokini an excellent location for fishing, attracting Hawaiians from nearby areas to come and cast their lines and nets.

Despite its utility, there is no evidence to suggest that Molokini ever hosted permanent settlements. Its small size and the rocky nature of its terrain likely made it unsuitable for long-term habitation. Instead, it seems that Molokini was used sporadically as a day trip destination where people could exploit its bountiful fishing opportunities and perhaps collect other marine resources during their visits.

The absence of permanent settlements does not diminish the historical importance of Molokini as a resource hub. The islet’s role in supporting the subsistence lifestyle of the ancient Hawaiians underscores its value within the broader cultural and economic landscape of pre-contact Hawaii.


The name “Molokini” has its origins steeped in Hawaiian mythology, reflecting the islands’ rich cultural heritage. According to legend, Molokini was a beautiful woman who found herself entangled in a love triangle with Pele, the powerful goddess of fire and volcanoes. Both women were in love with the same prince, which ignited Pele’s jealousy.

In a fit of rage, Pele sliced Molokini in two, turning her into stone. The remains of Molokini became the crescent-shaped crater we see today. The story further suggests that Pu’u’ Olai, a cinder cone near Makena Beach, represents the severed head of Molokini. This legend captures themes of passion, rivalry, and transformation, enriching the mystical aura that surrounds Molokini Crater.


Molokini Crater Hawaii Tours

Come along on our Maui Snorkeling Tours to Molokini Crater! Enjoy fun for the whole family in crystal-clear waters!

Military History

During World War II, Molokini Crater was employed by the U.S. military as a site for target practice. This strategic use of the islet, given its isolated location and the structure resembling naval targets, seemed ideal at the time but resulted in significant physical damage to the crater’s natural landscape. The military activities not only disrupted the marine habitat but also left behind remnants that would pose risks for years to come.

As the war ended, the focus shifted from military utility to conservation. The evident damage inflicted upon Molokini during the war sparked a growing awareness and concern among environmentalists, scientists, and the local community about the need to protect and preserve this unique natural resource. This shift in perception was part of a broader movement toward environmental conservation that was gaining momentum across Hawaii and the United States.

The post-war years saw increased efforts to safeguard the crater’s marine and terrestrial ecosystems. These efforts were bolstered by the increasing understanding of ecological balance and the importance of biodiversity. As a result, initiatives to clean up the remnants of military use and to manage human activities in the area more sustainably gained support. This culminated in the establishment of protections that sought not only to restore the damage but also to ensure the long-term preservation of Molokini’s ecological, cultural, and historical significance.


Photo Courtesy of

Conservation and Tourism

In 1977, recognizing the need to preserve its unique marine environment, the State of Hawai’i established the Molokini Shoal Marine Life Conservation District. This significant conservation effort introduced stringent regulations on fishing, anchoring, and the removal of marine life, including the once-overharvested beautiful black coral.

Until 1977, black coral was extensively harvested from the 1950s, leading to significant ecological impacts. Today, specific activities such as trolling and the removal of native species are restricted to the area from the outer rim of the crater extending outward to 100 yards.

Within the stunning inner reef of the crater, however, the focus is on non-intrusive activities like snorkeling, scuba diving, and snuba, which allow visitors to experience the beauty of the reef without harming its delicate ecosystem. These regulations ensure that the inner reef remains a pristine sanctuary for marine life.

The health and vitality of the reef are closely monitored by prestigious institutions such as the Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology, the University of Hawai’i Marine Options Program, and the Division of Aquatic Resources. The ongoing conservation efforts are not just about preserving the aesthetic appeal of the reef; they are crucial for maintaining its ecological balance.

Molokini Crater Hawaii features an impressive array of marine biodiversity, with up to 250 species of fish, 38 species of hard coral, and 100 species of algae. Among the vibrant marine life you can encounter at Molokini are Yellow Tang, Parrotfish, Butterflyfish, Moorish Idol, and the colorful Humuhumunukunukuapua’a, Hawaii’s state fish. These rich ecosystems are diligently protected to ensure that Molokini continues to serve as a sustainable habitat for a wide range of marine organisms, playing a crucial role in the overall biodiversity of Hawaii’s marine environments.

Today, Molokini is a State Marine Life and Bird Conservation District. It is renowned for its clear waters with visibility up to 150 feet on a good day, making it a premier spot for snorkeling, snuba, and scuba diving. The crescent shape of Molokini acts as a natural barrier against waves and strong currents in the channel, creating ideal conditions for snorkeling, especially in the early morning. Our Maui Snorkeling Morning Tour departs at 7 am, perfectly timed to take advantage of the calm waters for Molokini snorkeling.

Molokini continues to be an important part of Maui’s natural heritage and a beautiful example of Hawaii’s unique ecosystem and geology. The management and preservation efforts ensure that it remains a sustainable site for marine life observation and a fascinating area for scientific research.

Mooring at Molokini Crater is carefully regulated to protect its unique and delicate marine ecosystems while ensuring a sustainable visitor experience. To minimize damage to the coral reefs, the State of Hawaii has established specific mooring locations around the crater.

These designated moorings prevent boats from dropping anchors directly onto the reef, a practice that can cause significant harm to the underwater habitat. Both commercial and recreational vessels are required to obtain permits to use these moorings, controlling the number of visitors and reducing environmental impact.

The regulations include limits on the times during which boats can moor at Molokini and how long they can remain. These measures are designed to give the marine life periods of rest and reduce the overall ecological footprint of tourism. By using a fixed mooring system, the integrity of the coral reefs is maintained, supporting the diverse species that thrive there.

This approach not only protects the environment but also enhances the quality of the visitor experience. Tourists can enjoy clearer waters and less crowded conditions, allowing for more intimate and fulfilling encounters with the rich marine life of Molokini Crater. The managed mooring system exemplifies how thoughtful regulations can balance human activity with environmental preservation, making Molokini a model for sustainable marine tourism.


Maui Snorkeling Tours

Our Maui Snorkeling Morning Tour offers a thrilling underwater adventure from 7 AM to 12 PM, seven days a week. We explore two premier snorkeling destinations to ensure a memorable experience.

We begin with a visit to the iconic Molokini Crater, celebrated globally for its vibrant marine life and clear waters, Molokini Crater snorkeling is hard to beat! Following this, our tour continues to Turtle Town, where you can swim alongside the gentle Hawaiian green sea turtles in their natural habitat. As we navigate between these spectacular locations, keep an eye out for Humpback Whales gracefully traversing the Hawaiian waters—a sight not to be missed!

Please be aware that while Molokini Crater is our preferred starting point, the itinerary of snorkeling spots can vary based on weather conditions to ensure the safety and enjoyment of our guests.

Honoring a request from the Department of Land and Natural Resources to reduce noise-generating activities at Molokini Crater, our Maui Snorkeling Afternoon Tour now primarily goes to Coral Gardens or Turtle Town.

This tour runs from 1 pm – 4 pm, daily and is perfect for those looking for a more relaxed and less crowded snorkeling adventure. Most afternoons, our guests enjoy snorkeling and sliding at either Coral Gardens or Turtle Town, but on special occasions, we offer a snorkeling-only experience at Molokini Crater, without the waterslide, allowing for a tranquil exploration of its pristine marine environment.

Our family-friendly snorkeling tours welcome little adventurers—kids under 4 join for FREE! We offer an all-inclusive experience, ensuring that everything you need is provided. From top-notch snorkeling gear and optical masks to onboard training for all ages, we’ve got you covered. Enjoy additional fun with boogie boards!

Your day will be complemented by a delicious deli lunch, along with a selection of coffee, tea, juices, and soft drinks to keep you refreshed throughout the adventure. Dive into a worry-free day where fun and relaxation are the only items on your itinerary!

Maui Snorkeling Tours

Come aboard our morning tour to Molokini Crater! Dive into a world of tropical fish and explore the stunning coral reef!

The Future of Molokini Crater Hawaii

The future of Molokini Crater Hawaii involves a continuing emphasis on balancing tourism and conservation to preserve its unique ecological and geological characteristics. As one of Hawaii’s top snorkeling and diving destinations, managing human impact on this delicate marine environment is critical. Here are some key aspects that are likely to shape the future of Molokini Crater:

  1. Continued Conservation Efforts – Conservation will remain a priority to ensure the sustainability of Molokini’s marine ecosystems. Efforts may include stricter regulations on the number of visitors, the types of activities allowed, and the enforcement of existing rules about fishing and boating. Ongoing scientific research will likely play a vital role in informing conservation strategies and understanding the long-term health of the reef and its inhabitants.
  2. Climate Change Impact – Like many marine environments around the world, Molokini Crater will need to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Rising sea temperatures, ocean acidification, and changing marine life patterns could affect the biodiversity and structural integrity of the crater’s coral reefs. Management strategies will need to be adaptive and proactive to mitigate these effects, possibly involving coral restoration projects and other marine management practices.
  3. Education and Community Involvement – Enhancing educational programs and involving the local community in conservation efforts are likely to be crucial components of preserving Molokini. Increasing awareness about the ecological value and vulnerabilities of Molokini can encourage responsible tourism and local stewardship. Educational initiatives might focus on the importance of Molokini both as a natural resource and as a cultural heritage site for Hawaii.
  4. Regulation and Monitoring – As tourism continues to grow, there may be increased monitoring and regulation to ensure that activities around Molokini are sustainable. This could involve more sophisticated tracking of the health of the ecosystem and real-time data usage to manage visitor numbers and activities effectively.

As we reflect on the journey of Molokini Crater from its volcanic origins to a beloved marine sanctuary, it’s clear that this unique natural wonder holds not only a fascinating past but also a promising future. The efforts to balance preservation with tourism showcase a commitment to maintaining the crater’s beauty and biodiversity for generations to come. Looking ahead, with ongoing conservation initiatives and increased community involvement, Molokini will continue to thrive as one of Hawaii’s most treasured destinations. Whether you’re snorkeling among vibrant coral reefs or simply soaking in the spectacular views, a visit to Molokini Crater Hawaii offers a timeless connection to the natural world, reminding us of the importance of protecting such irreplaceable treasures.

Molokini Crater