Sea Turtle Cleaning Station

A Turtle ‘Spa’, No Appointment Needed!

Because turtles must keep their shells clean of algae and other things that can slow them down (enough to become ‘mini-ecosystems of their own and probably itches!), cleaning stations are often the focal point of every turtle community. After discovering a reef that provides adequate food and shelter, one of the first things that turtles hope to do is set up a cleaning station. This usually involves finding a conspicuous coral head.

Living amongst the coral branches are damselfish, angelfish, tangs, wrasse and other algae eaters. Taking turns, often sharing, and at times crowding about, the turtles present themselves to the fish for a picking-over. As they hover patiently over corals or sit on the bottom, the hungry fish, eagerly perform the task. Turtle shells are actually very sensitive and they can feel the slightest touch. Sea turtle or fish cleaning stations are one of our no-miss west Oahu dive spots.

Cleaner wrasse can be considered the miner’s ‘canaries’ of the coral reef realm.

green sea turtles at cleaning station

We know of several green sea turtle cleaning stations, our favorite is at a boulder off Makaha Beach. The turtles of the area approach, assume the position, and hover, an indication that cleaning is about to take place. Smart snorkelers wait patiently to watch this ancient ritual. Turtles will come and go calmly if undisturbed.

Swimmers should not do anything (splash, make noise, dive after) to change a turtle’s behavior. Turtles allow the experience to continue only if they do not feel threatened. Come and check it out!

Carefully gliding up to the cleaning station, the turtles delight swimmers with their graceful movements. In an amazing adaptation to conserve energy when inactive, turtles slow their heart rates and reduce the blood flow to their muscle tissues. Gathering minute amounts of oxygen though highly vascularized nasal passages, turtles can extend their bottom time by resting in this non-pulsed mode. Eventually they must surface for air, as an oxygen debt is built up in their tissues. Because elongated stays underwater has a chilling effect on their bodies, they will float on the surface and bask in the sun after an extended dive. If undisturbed, turtles may remain motionless for over an hour.

Sea Turtle Lingo:

Carapace: the top shell of a turtle.

Caruncle: the temporary tooth used by a turtle to break out of the shell during hatching.

Clutch: all of the eggs comprising the contents of one sea turtle nest.

Hatchling: baby sea turtle that emerges from an egg.

Plastron: a turtle’s bottom shell.

Scutes: the plates forming a turtle’s shell.

Turtle Excluder Device (TED): a grid of bars with an opening at the top or bottom of a trawl net.

Wild Side’s wildlife tours focus on education and conservation so that an interactive relationship can be maintained in the best interest of both humans and dolphins. We strive to foster admiration and deep respect for these wonder-full marine mammals.