Hanauma Bay Reopens Under Guidelines That Emphasize Preservation Over Revenue

Dec 2, 2020

Updated: 12/3/2020, 6:15 a.m. The city yesterday reopened the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve after a nine-month shutdown because of the pandemic, but with a limit of 720 people a day under a new pilot program. Prior to the pandemic, as many as 3,000 residents and tourists entered the marine sanctuary daily.

" class="wysiwyg-break drupal-content" src="/sites/all/modules/contrib/wysiwyg/plugins/break/images/spacer.gif" title="<--break-->">Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said revenue won't be the focus of the city's management of the bay but rather it will be operate with an emphasis on preserving Hanauma's resources.

"How do we open up this incredible marine preserve in a way that is building a foundation for restorative and regenerative tourism? Could this be a model for how we return to a new normal for all visitors coming to Hawaii, where it's not just counting the number 10 million 11 million, 12 million 30 million?" he said.

"And of course, the pushback you receive from residents who feel overwhelmed and the impact it creates on our natural resources, which is tremendous and growing. So we open up, we try to find how we protect this living laboratory, how we balance conservation with recreation. It can be done."

Commercial taxis, sightseeing tours, and snorkel groups and the city bus won't have access to the bay, he said. Visitors will need to drive their own cars, walk or bike to Hanauma. A shuttle will run between the top and bottom of the park to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

Hanauma will be closed to visitors two days a week -- Monday and Tuesday -- and entry will be from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., with visitors required to leave by 4 p.m.

No commercial activities will be allowed. The gift shop, snorkel equipment rental and food concession will be closed. Those who plan to snorkel will need to bring their own equipment. 

Visitors must abide by safety measures: face coverings are mandated at all times except when swimming, and social distancing must be observed.

As previously required, all visitors will need to watch an educational video before using the bay, but the theater's capacity will be limited to 30 people at a time for social distancing.

Entry fees were recently increased for nonresidents; they will pay $3 for parking and $12 for entry.

Hawaii residents can enter free with valid I.D. and $1 for parking. Children 12 and younger can also enter for free.

Details of the reopening were announced by Caldwell and city Parks Director Michele Nekota at a press conference yesterday afternoon.

Prior to the shutdown of the popular tourist site, about 840,000 people a year visited the bay. The crowds posed a safety hazard when COVID-19 spread, prompting the closure on March 18.

During the intervening months, scientists have been able to see how the bay and marine life restored itself without a large human presence. Water clarity improved by over 60 percent, coral have regrown, and populations of fish like papio and ulua have increased.

In a story in September, HPR's Ryan Finnerty spoke with Elizabeth Madin, a marine scientist at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, about the opportunity researchers have had to observe the bay without visitors.

She said when humans return to the bay, scientists will be able to compare the impact on fish behavior during the closure and after the reopening.

Researchers have also been studying coral in the protected marine ecosystem and gauging human impact on the reefs.

Lisa Bishop with Friends of Hanauma Bay said the group is working with the state Division of Aquatics to develop a coral restoration program for the preserve.

The pilot program will run a few months before it is evaluated, Nekota said. But Bishop want to see it run indefinitely , or at least for a year.