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Aerial photo of Molokini
Location [1]
Area 0.093 km2 (0.036 sq mi)
Highest elevation 49 m (161 ft)
United States
Population 0

Molokini is a crescent-shaped, partially submerged volcanic crater which forms a small islet located in Alalakeiki Channel between the islands of Maui and Kahoʻolawe, part of Maui County in Hawaiʻi. It has an area of 23 acres (9.3 ha),[2] a diameter of about 0.4 miles (0.6 km), is 49 metres (161 ft) at its highest point[3] and is located about 2.5 miles (4.0 km) west of Makena State Park and south of Maʻalaea Bay. It is a popular tourist destination for scuba diving, snuba and snorkeling. The islet is a Hawaiʻi State Seabird Sanctuary.


  • Popular dive spot 1
  • Mythology 2
  • History 3
  • Ecology 4
  • Restrictions on access and activities 5
  • References 6

Popular dive spot

Molokini's crescent shape protects divers from waves and the channel's powerful currents. However, experienced scuba divers will also drift dive off the 300 feet (91 m) sheer outer wall, using the channel currents to carry them along.

The crater houses a lush reef with excellent visibility as deep as 150 feet (46 m). Molokini is home to about 250 species of fish, many endemic (see Ecology below). The best conditions occur in early morning.[4]

Because Molokini attracts many boats, the Hawaii State Division of Boating and Recreation established mooring buoys and "Day Use Mooring Rules" for Molokini to protect against damage from dropped anchors.

Its popularity has led many water-sport guides to lament that overcrowding has made the experience less attractive.


Photo showing large island (Kahoʻolawe) mostly covered by cloud, and the smaller islet of Molokini with the South Maui coast in the foreground
Aerial view of Kahoʻolawe, Molokini and the Makena side of Maui

Photo showing large island (Kahoʻolawe) mostly covered by cloud, and the smaller islet of Molokini with the South Maui coast in the foreground

In Hawaiian legend, Molokini was a beautiful woman. She and Pele, the fire goddess, were in love with the same man. The jealous Pele cut her rival in two and transformed her into stone. The woman's head is supposedly Puʻu Olai, the cinder cone by Makena Beach.

This is one of various legends involving Molokini Crater.


Molokini Crater History

Potassium-argon dating by Yoshitomo Nishimitsu of Kyoto University indicates that Molokini erupted approximately 230,000 years ago.[5]

Archaeological evidence, primarily in the form of stone sinkers and lures, show that early Hawaiians visited Molokini to fish. They also likely harvested seabirds, eggs and feathers.

During World War II, the United States Navy used Molokini for target practice, as its shape is somewhat similar to a battleship.[6] In 1975 and 1984, the Navy detonated in-place unexploded munitions found within the crater, resulting in the destruction of large areas of coral. This resulted in a public outcry. A thorough search and risky manual removal of unexploded munitions to deep water was carried out by volunteer divers as a result. As well, a 2006 survey found no evidence of unexploded munitions on the islet.

From the 1950s through the 1970s, commercial harvesting of black coral occurred in Molokini.[7]

In 1977 Molokini islet, the crater, and the surrounding 77 acres (31 ha) of underwater terrain were declared a Marine Life Conservation District (MLCD).[8]


U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey marker on Molokini

Molokini crater is home to approximately 250 to 260 marine species. Most commonly observed among these are the black triggerfish, yellow tang, Moorish idol, parrotfish, raccoon butterflyfish and bluefin trevally. Due to constant exposure to park visitors and the long history as a conservation district, the fish of Molokini are extremely comfortable with the presence of nearby divers. Small whitetip reef sharks and moray eels are occasionally seen in the crater.

The waters of Molokini contain 38 hard coral species and approximately 100 species of algae.

The islet is home to at least two species of nesting seabirds — Bulwer's petrels and wedge-tailed shearwaters. Additionally great frigatebirds have been observed on Molokini islet.[6]

Restrictions on access and activities

Back-side of Molokini
Molokini islet is federally owned and is a state seabird sanctuary. Thus, unauthorized landing is prohibited. Permission to land must be obtained both from the U.S. Coast Guard and the Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife.[6]

Regulations covering the Molokini Shoal MLCD (see History above) prohibit fishing, collection or removal of specimens, and fish feeding within its bounds. Additionally, dropping anchor within the MLCD is not permitted due to the potential of damage to the coral reef. Tour boat operators have been allocated fixed mooring points instead.


  1. ^ "Molokini".  
  2. ^ "Molokini: Block 9000, Block Group 9, Census Tract 303.02, Maui County, Hawaii". United States Census Bureau. 
  3. ^ "CRAMP Study Sites: Molokini Island, Island of Maui". Coral Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program. University of Hawaii. Archived from the original on 2010-09-24. Retrieved 2010-11-28. 
  4. ^ "Hawaiiweb > Sites > Molokini". Retrieved September 18, 2009. 
  5. ^ "USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory Update, Feb 8, 2001". 
  6. ^ a b c "Offshore Islet Restoration Committee". 
  7. ^ Severns, Mike; Fiene-Severns, Pauline (1993). Molokini Island: Hawaii's premier marine preserve. Pacific Islands Publishing, Inc. p. 19. 
  8. ^ "Maui - Molokini Shoal". Marine Life Conservation District. Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources. Archived from the original on 2011-05-10. Retrieved 2011-03-27. 
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