A Magical Encounter: Swimming with Turtles in Aroa Lagoonarium and Beyond, Rarotonga

Swimming with turtles is a truly magical experience, and Rarotonga offers some of the best opportunities to interact with these gentle creatures.

The enchanting underwater world of Aroa Lagoonarium, located in front of The Rarotongan Beach Resort and Sanctuary Rarotonga - on the beach, is home to half a dozen wild turtles that thrive in the protected environment.

For those who dream of swimming with turtles in a safe, easily accessible, all-tide location, this is an experience you simply cannot miss.

Rarotonga is home to two of the seven species of sea turtles - the Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) and the Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata).

While swimming with these graceful animals is an unforgettable experience, it is essential to follow guidelines that ensure the safety of both humans and turtles.

When you spot a turtle while snorkeling, kayaking, or paddle-boarding, STOP! This will allow the turtle to determine if it is open to human company or not. If they are scared, they will disappear quickly, so do not try to pursue them as they can swim infinitely faster than you can. If the turtle hangs around, only move very slowly, keeping at least 2 meters (6 feet) distance. If the turtle feels safe, you may be able to swim alongside it for 15 minutes or more.

Keep in mind these important tips for swimming with turtles:

  • Maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from the turtles.
  • Stay flat on the surface and avoid disrupting the ecosystem.
  • Do not stand on the coral, as this can damage the sea grass where turtles feed.
  • Wear a rash guard or long sleeve shirt, not sunscreen, to protect the turtles and coral reefs.

• Never chase, poke, harass, or try to touch the turtles.

If you are snorkeling close to a sea turtle, take photographs of both sides of its head and of its full body. The heads of sea turtles are covered by dark scales (facial scutes) that are unique to each individual, just like our fingerprints.

Photographs of the full body are required to find out if it is a female or a male. Males have long tails, whereas females and juveniles have short tails that are often invisible.

Please post any photos with the date and location of sighting to our Facebook site https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100064693450749, so that turtle researchers and scientists can easily access this information.

The Aroa Lagoonarium is an excellent spot for swimming with turtles, as is the Avaavaroa Passage, which has the largest population of sea turtles and eagle rays on Rarotonga.

However, the passage is subject to significant tidal rips and, to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience, it is recommended to join a guided tour with a commercial operator.

Charlotte Piho, a world-famous underwater photographer, specializes in photography with the turtles. Check out her work at https://charlottepiho.com/. Josh Utanga is an internationally certified lifesaver and offers small personalized tours. Contact Josh at 71-644 or joshutanga@gmail.com, or visit his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/snorkelcookislands/. Ariki Adventures offers sea scooters, making swimming with the turtles accessible to a wide range of visitors: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=614850958887170. Go Local Cook Islands (https://www.golocalcookislands.com/) and KiteSUP (https://www.kitesup.co/) offer turtle swimming tours in the Avaavaroa Passage and other locations around the island.

Swimming with turtles in Rarotonga is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will leave you with awe-inspiring memories. By respecting these magnificent creatures and their environment, we can ensure that future generations can also enjoy the magic of swimming with turtles in the Aroa Lagoonarium and around Rarotonga.