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Molokini seen from the north
Molokini is located in Maui
Molokini is located in Hawaii
Location20°38′00″N 156°29′46″W / 20.63333°N 156.49611°W / 20.63333; -156.49611[1]
Area23 acres (9.3 ha)
Highest elevation161 ft (49.1 m)
Hawaiʻi, United States

Molokini is a crescent-shaped, partially submerged volcanic crater which forms a small, uninhabited islet located in ʻAlalākeiki Channel between the islands of Maui and Kahoʻolawe, within Maui County in Hawaiʻi. It is the remains of one of the seven Pleistocene epoch volcanoes that formed the prehistoric Maui Nui island, during the Quaternary Period of the Cenozoic Era.

The islet has an area of 23 acres (9.3 ha),[2] a diameter of about 0.4 miles (0.6 km), is 161 feet (50 m) at its highest point,[3] and is located about 2.5 miles (2.2 nmi; 4.0 km) west of Makena State Park and south of Maʻalaea Bay. The islet is a Hawaiʻi State Seabird Sanctuary.


Snorkel boats at Molokini Crater
Snorkel boats inside Molokini crater

Molokini is a destination for scuba diving, snuba, and snorkeling. Its crescent shape protects divers inside it from waves and the channel's powerful currents, though diving also takes place off the 300-foot (91.5-meter) sheer outer wall. In the morning, when winds are calmer, smaller tour boats also bring guests to snorkel off the outer wall.[4]

The crater houses a reef with 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.[5] The water depth is 20–50 feet (6–15 m) in the majority of the allowed dive spots.

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.


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.


An aerial photo of the west side of Molokini
An aerial photo of the west side of Molokini

Potassium-argon dating indicates that Molokini erupted approximately 230,000 years ago.[6] 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.[7]

During World War II, the United States Navy used Molokini for target practice, as its shape is somewhat similar to a battleship.[8] 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 manual removal of unexploded munitions to deep water was carried out by volunteer divers as a result. A 2006 survey found no evidence of unexploded munitions on the islet.[9] As a result of the extensive target practice, the southwest rim of the islet is damaged.[citation needed]

From the 1950s through the 1970s, commercial harvesting of black coral occurred in Molokini.[10] In 1977 Molokini islet, the crater, and the surrounding 77 acres (31 ha) of underwater terrain were declared a Marine Life Conservation District (MLCD).[11]


United States Coast and Geodetic Survey marker on Molokini.

Molokini crater is home to approximately 250 to 260 marine species.[citation needed] 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 comfortable with the presence of nearby divers.[citation needed] Small whitetip reef sharks and moray eels are occasionally seen in the crater, and red pencil urchins can be seen quite frequently.

The waters of Molokini contain 38 hard coral species and approximately 100 species of algae. Although quite dense on the seafloor, they are not as densely packed as they had historically been due to the constant tourism and activity there. 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.[8]

Restrictions on access and activities[edit]

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.[8]

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.

Snorkeling and scuba diving are by far the most popular activities at the crater. Visibility at Molokini regularly exceeds 50 feet (15 meters), and the inside of the crater is generally sheltered from strong winds and waves. The back wall of the island has been named one of the top 100 diving destinations in the world by scubadiving.com. This drift dive offers steep drop-offs 360 feet (110 meters) to the ocean floor's reef and underwater life.[12]


Molokini Crater requires permits for commercial vessels to moor within the crater. A study showed[when?] that over 300,000 visitors visited Molokini crater annually.[citation needed] This number of visitors is thought to have affected marine life inside the crater. A proposed bill in 2019, if put into effect, will decrease the number of moorings in the crater from over 20 to 12 total moorings.[13] This will limit the number of visitors to the crater and help to preserve marine wildlife.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Molokini". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey, United States Department of the Interior.
  2. ^ "Molokini: Block 9000, Block Group 9, Census Tract 303.02, Maui County, Hawaii". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2011-07-08.
  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. ^ "Snorkeling At Molokini". Retrieved September 5, 2014.
  5. ^ "Hawaiiweb > Sites > Molokini". Archived from the original on January 2, 2002. Retrieved September 18, 2009.
  6. ^ "USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory Update, Feb 8, 2001".
  7. ^ "Molokini Crater History".
  8. ^ a b c "Offshore Islet Restoration Committee". Archived from the original on 2011-01-08. Retrieved 2010-04-11.
  9. ^ "Geology & History of Molokini".
  10. ^ Severns, Mike; Fiene-Severns, Pauline (1993). Molokini Island: Hawaii's premier marine preserve. Pacific Islands Publishing, Inc. p. 19.
  11. ^ "Maui - Molokini Shoal". Marine Life Conservation District. Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources. Archived from the original on 2011-06-16. Retrieved 2011-03-27.
  12. ^ "Top 100 Destination: Maui Diving". Scuba Diving. Retrieved 2018-02-06.
  13. ^ https://www.letsgotomaui.net/da-kine/best-molokini-crater-guide/ Archived on 26 September 2020