Lim is a travel industry management student
at Hawai‘i Pacific University, and she always enjoys
the days she spends at Hanauma Bay.
The fish aren’t afraid of humans and don’t swim away
when they see you. Some are so curious they swim right up to
your mask,” she added.
Many visitors say that being underwater in Hanauma Bay is like
swimming in an aquarium.
This underwater world is full of colorful fish that live in
and around the coral reef. When the sun is shining, the reef
beautiful and in some spots is shining in all different colors:
yellow, pink, purple, brown, and black.
Hanauma Bay is known as O‘ahu’s premier spot for
snorkeling because of its crystal-clear water and spectacular
marine life. Local residents and visitors alike come here to
enjoy swimming with the fish and to experience a living coral
According to hanaumabay-hawaii.com, more than 450 species of
tropical fish, including the Hawai‘i state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapua‘a,
and the Hawaiian green sea turtle inhabit the bay. About 30 percent
of these fish exist only in the Hawaiian Islands.
I haven’t been lucky enough to see a sea turtle, yet,” Lim
said, “but I hope to.”
Hanauma Bay is a nature preserve that became the first Marine
Life Conservation District in the state in 1967. Over the
last several decades however, Hanauma Bay has experienced
by humans. During peak travel periods in the 1980s, there
were as many as 10,000 visitors in the bay daily, or about
visitors annually. This has led to rules and regulations
in order to protect the fragile marine ecosystem.
In 1990, the City and County of Honolulu laid out a plan
that would reduce the number of visitors, stop the neglect,
the bay to a healthy state, and safeguard the fragile marine
life for the future. The plan included a fish feeding ban,
an educational video to be watched by every visitor, a smoking
and the prohibition of fishing and alcoholic beverages.
Since 1999, visitors haven’t even been allowed to feed
the fish. There are several reasons for this ban. According to
Mahealani Kaneshiro, who works at the Hanauma Bay Education Program,
the fish got away from what they eat naturally. Also, feeding
the fish contributed to water pollution and changed fish behavior,
as some fish started biting people because they associated the
snorkelers with food.
Some tourists are disappointed that they aren’t allowed
to feed the fish anymore. However, “most visitors usually
understand the fish feeding ban, once we explain it to them.
People just have to know that if we don’t protect Hanauma
Bay today, it’s not going to be there in the future,” Kaneshiro
There are also many people who don’t know that fish feeding
was once allowed.
We come from Virginia Beach, Virginia, where the ocean water
isn’t clear at all. It’s impossible to see any fish
there,” said Linda Jarvis, a first-time visitor to Hawai‘i
and her son Brian added that they didn’t know that fish
feeding was once allowed. “Hanauma Bay totally fulfills
our expectations, and we enjoy it a lot,” he said.
Before entering the beach, visitors can learn more about
Hanauma Bay and its history, the coral reef, and the marine
population at the Marine Education Center, which opened
All visitors are required to watch a nine-minute educational
video about the formation of the bay, ways to protect the
reef, some of the bay’s fish, and safety tips.
As a result of these regulations, the number of visitors
dropped from 10,000 to 3,000 visitors daily, or about 1
year. The main reason for this decrease is that the number
allowed to enter was greatly limited, according to hanaumabayhawaii.org.
There are also people who turn around voluntarily when they see
the long line at the entrance during our peak seasons,” Kaneshiro
First-time visitors sometimes wonder if there are sharks
in Hanauma Bay and if they are a threat to humans. There
in the bay, even though it is a popular tourist attraction.
sharks in Hanauma Bay are reef sharks and are only about four
feet long. They don’t feed on humans, and there has never
been any shark attack in the bay,” Kaneshiro said.
Hanauma Bay has a long history. The word “Hanauma” is
an ancient Hawaiian word that can have several meanings. According
to cramp.wcc.hawaii.edu, “Hana” refers to a bay or
valley. “Uma” can either refer to a curve, handwrestling,
or the stern of a canoe. Three possible translations for Hanauma
Bay could therefore be: curved bay, handwrestling bay, or canoe
In the past, Hanauma Bay was known as a good fishing
spot for ali‘i, the Hawaiian royalty. In times of rough weather,
the bay provided a safe haven for canoeists who were on their
way from Honolulu to Moloka‘i.
According to adrhi.com, “Hanauma Bay was created when the
ocean breached the seaward side of a volcanic crater and flooded
the crater floor.” Within the following thousands of years, “the
erosive force of the ocean collapsed the seaward crater wall,
and a massive reef and white sand beach formed at the head of
The reef in the bay is a fringing reef, which grows out
from the beach and slopes off into deeper waters. Although
looks like stone, coral is a living animal that grows
According to the University of Hawai‘i Web site, “the
oldest coral in the bay is dated at 7,000 years old,
and the youngest corals are growing out towards the ocean near
of the bay.”
The coral reef extends about 300 meters offshore and prevents
any ocean surge from reaching the beach,” writes Thomas
V. Ress on gorp.away.com.
Corals are very sharp and one should avoid kicking
or touching them as this might cause lacerations or
If one gets cut, one should wash the wound with soap
and fresh water
as a first aid because there can still be pieces of
coral and bacteria in the wound. It is also good to
A thrilling experience for the more experienced snorkeler
or diver is to snorkel or dive in the dark. This is
Saturday, as the park is open until 10 p.m. If visitors
already have a waterproof flashlight, they can rent a big one
for $10. During the night, different fish come out, and it is
even possible to see octipi.“It’s a whole different
experience to swim in pitch-black water over the dark reef, equipped
with only a flashlight,” Lim said.
For safety reasons, it is best to night dive with a
buddy and to always stay close together as the waves
be strong, and it is easier to lose orientation. Also,
if one does
this for the first time, it is better to stay closer
to the shore.
The view is awesome, not only under water, but also
of the night sky above. And because there are usually
in the dark with their flashlights, it looks like there
are stars in the sky and in the ocean.
Other attractions in this nature preserve are the Toilet
Bowl, a natural pool in a lava rock, and Witches Brew,
a rocky point
on the bay’s edge where incoming waves crash against the
Despite the fact that many people come to Hanauma Bay
to enjoy themselves in the water and to have fun, drownings
in the past. According to Mike Menkewizz and Tim Brandon,
two lifeguards, a lot of people get in trouble because
inexperienced ocean swimmers who underestimate the
power of strong waves and
currents. Many of them are first-time snorkelers, older
people, or people who don’t wear fins or who haven’t made
themselves familiar with their equipment. Not all of them drown,
but many experience distress and struggle to get back to land.
Over the year, the lifeguards help hundreds by paddling out on
The major threat for humans in the bay is not the reef or a marine
animal, but the inexperienced swimmers themselves,” Menkewizz
A lot of people who come to the bay also enjoy lying
on the beach and having a picnic after they come
Park facilities include restrooms, showers, picnic
areas, snorkel rental, locker rental, tram service,
a lost and
a gift shop, and a snack bar.
The admission fee for nonresidents is $5 per person
for 13 years or older. There is no fee for children
and military stationed in Hawai‘i with proper ID. The parking
fee is $1 per car and the price to rent a snorkel set is $6.
The park is open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the
summer (April – September)
and from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the winter (October – March).
Currently, the park is closed on Tuesdays. For more information,
visit the Web site of Hanauma Bay at hanaumabayhawaii.org.