Meet Myrtle the turtle

As I explained earlier, many green sea turtles live along the shoreline at Puako, Hawaii. They cruise around the reef, graze on algae and seaweed in the shallows, and sunbathe on the rocks and beaches there. We'd like to introduce you to one of those turtles.

Myrtle the turtle This is Myrtle, a Hawaiian green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas). Over a period of several years, we got to know Myrtle quite well. Because we got to know Myrtle, we learned a lot about green sea turtles and how they live.

Myrtle's base of operations in Puako happened to be the particular little cove where we most often enter the water to begin our shore dives. While quite a few turtles hang out in that area, we noticed that one particular turtle had a small 'ding' right in the center of her carapace. That little blemish in her shell set her apart from the others and made her easy to identify. We named her Myrtle -- not the most original name for a turtle, I know, but it suited her. (Take a look at that face in the photo and tell me she doesn't look like a Myrtle!)

At the time we first encountered Myrtle, Jerry and I were living in Puako, right across the street from the little cove where this turtle lived. Our good friend Dan lived just up the road. During the time that we all lived there, Dan and Jerry and I visited the cove on a daily basis, whether we were diving or not. It was during this period that this spot became our favorite, and that we got to know Myrtle.

Once we learned to recognize Myrtle, we noticed that she was there almost all the time. So, one of the first things we learned from Myrtle is that green sea turtles are creatures of habit.

Green sea turtle eating seaweedSometimes we'd see her basking on the beach, 'working on her tan.' Most often we'd see Myrtle in the water close to shore, munching away on the limu (seaweed) that covers the rocks there in the shallows, just as she's doing in the photo at right. Occasionally we'd cross paths with her while diving out on the reef beyond the dropoff. More on that later...

Most of the sea turtles around Puako are quite laid back, especially when they're basking on the rocks or the beach. By this I mean that they are not very skittish in the presence of people -- almost as if they know they are protected by law, and that no human will harm them. (Either that, or the warm sun just makes them drowsy!)

The sea turtles in Puako can be a little touchy about having their space invaded when they are feeding, however. If waders approach them, they'll often pointedly shove off from the bottom and swim at least a few meters away. We'd see Myrtle do that, too, but then we noticed something interesting.

As I mentioned, we had almost daily encounters with Myrtle for years. We began to notice that if we waded past Myrtle while wearing our wetsuits and dive boots, she never spooked. Perhaps she grew accustomed to seeing us -- or rather our neoprene-clad legs and feet! -- and understood that the humans attached to those legs and feet were not going to harass her. That thought was reinforced by the fact that if we waded into the water bare-legged, bam! Myrtle would take off.

There is a sound reason why sea turtles tend to stay clear of anything unfamiliar, including people, while they are underwater. Sea turtles can stay underwater for a considerable length of time, but they are air breathers. They need to surface from time to time for a breath, so they have an innate fear of being cornered or restrained underwater.

Nevertheless, Myrtle often would pop her head above the surface and look right at us as we waded past her -- as long as we were decked out in our dive gear. We used to ask one another if we were imagining that she recognized us (or our neoprene), and of course we can't say for sure, but it did seem more than a coincidence that just as we'd pass by her, she'd interrupt her grazing and pop up as if to say hello.

As if! What she really did was exhale her turtle breath in our direction, and then she'd duck her head back under the water to take another pass at the limu buffet below. We'd do our dive, and an hour or so later when we waded back to shore, Myrtle would still be there. Once more she'd surface as we waded past, and give us another big whiff of limu breath.

We have lots of Myrtle stories. Next time, I'll tell you a bit more about this special turtle and what we learned from her.


  1. How lucky you were to be accepted by her - a great gift! The first pic is great - it captures her attitude!

  2. Aloha Bobbie and mahalo for introducing Myrtle the Turtle. Looking forward to hearing more stories about your special Puako turtle friend. Aloha, Pua

  3. What a magnificent and beautiful animal, thanks for posting the story and images, must be amazing to witness.

  4. Hello Kathy, Pua, and Bernie -

    Welcome back to The Right Blue.

    Yes, Kathy, after awhile we did feel like Myrtle accepted our presence. The first pic on this post does capture something of Myrtle's individuality. It was cropped from a larger picture that will be published in a later post.

    Pua, stay tuned. There's more to tell about Myrtle.

    Bernie, being around animals like this really is an amazing experience. Most people don't seem to find reptiles, in general, all that appealing. Myrtle seemed quite elegant to us -- a very serene animal.


  5. Myrtle is gorgeous! Next trip to Hawai'i I want to get a honu tattoo. I was lucky enough to see some while snorkling on the Kona side a few years back, so I can only imagine the feeling of being in Myrtle's circle.

  6. Hi Stinkypaw -

    Good for you that you saw some of Myrtle's kin while during your trip to Kona. It's always nice to meet other sea turtle lovers.


  7. Hello Bobbie & Jerry

    Sure brings back lots of memories seeing murtle again. Just another one of the hundreds if not thousands of memories I have from diving with you both.
    I will never forget how when we would dive that spot the first thing we would do is look for murtle.
    Thanks for the memory shot.

  8. Hi Dan!

    Yes, our stories about diving at Puako -- and certainly the ones about our favorite turtle -- are your stories as much as they are ours, since we were all together on most of those dives.

    So glad to have you add your perspective!

    Bobbie & Jerry

    P.S. to everyone else: Puako Diver Dan has been our most frequent dive buddy for many years. He's our co-expert on Puako reef and all the critters that live there, including Myrtle the turtle.


We welcome your comments and invite your questions. Dialogue is a good thing!

Bobbie & Jerry