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By Heather Hamblin, News Writing

 

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is on the southeast coast of O‘ahu. The staff of the preserve have worked hard for it to become a historical facility in Hawai‘i. Their goal is to welcome and to educate each visitor about the bay’s unique environment.

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Alan Hong, Hanauma Bay’s manager. Our conversation centered around the guidelines of appropriate behavior for the park’s visitors.

Hong feels that it is important for each resident and nonresident visitor alike, to have an accurate preconception of the unique atmosphere that makes up the bay. This environment requires extra protection. “A delicate place like this could be heavily damaged just by the overcrowding of everyone that wants to see this wonderful place. There are a multitude of protective measures to minimize damage to the area. These protective measures are in the form of restrictions and regulations,” Hong said.

Twenty years ago there were up to three million visitors a year, 8,000 a day, with very little restrictions. Park officials saw a need to implement restrictions in order to safeguard the preserve. In 1990, measures were taken to limit the number of visitors admitted to the park. Access is controlled essentially by vehicular entrance.

Hong noted that in the past on busy summer days, “there could be over 10,000 people coming to the beach in a day, that’s staggering,” says Hong. With restrictions in place, they’ve got it down to 3,000 visitors a day.

One of the ways of limiting admission is by prohibiting the number of commercial operators that have access to the bay. These restrictions are so tight that Hong said, “only 21 permits are given out each year. They are good for week-days only and prohibited on weekends and holidays. Each permit only allows six people in the bay.” At the time admission restrictions were implemented, visitors began to be educated on ways they could minimize the damaging affects of their visit. It took the management of Hanauma Bay 13 years to formulate the regulations that visitors are asked to abide by today.

The visitor educational facility is the most recent addition used to educate the visitors upon their arrival. A mandatory 9.5-minute film is shown every fifteen minutes to each visitor. The theater holds 125 people. Each film is viewed to its maximum allowable capacity. The flow is controlled at 500 persons per hour. The typical visitor’s day on the beach is roughly three hours.

The goal is to prevent the number of people on the beach from exceeding 2000 persons at any one time. “The admission fee goes into the Hanauma Bay account which can only be used at Hanauma Bay,” Hong added. “Visitors are educated at the top of the hill where everybody will have access; people will be educated before they get down to the water.”

Prior to restrictions, feeding the fish was an activity many visitors looked forward to during their visit to Hanauma Bay. However, “a scientific survey showed that 40% of the people would feed the fish bread... when you think of 10,000 visitors in one day, suppose four people were sharing one loaf of bread; that is half a ton of bread dumped into the water in one day,” Hong said.

“ We have to stay focused on the preservation concerns,” Hong said. Along with the restrictions of admission, it became very important to have the appropriate audience coming to Hanauma Bay. Hanauma Bay is not a typical beach park where you can hibachi and set up a volleyball net.
“ It is the delicate, overstressed reef that we are trying to preserve,” said Hong. He added: “This will be a spectacular experience if you understand that you are entering a living museum.”

There is a three-prong support group for Hanauma Bay. “The city is in charge of everything. Friends of Hanauma Bay are concerned citizens that want to do things to help Hanauma Bay, and staff and management is contracted to the University of Hawai‘i to run the Educational Program,” Hong said.
“ Hanauma Bay is a very unique preserve and conservation area.” Although Hanauma Bay is seen as a tourist destination, it is managed as a marine preserve. “First off, we do manage it as a preserve, which means that it should not be pushed as a tourist destination, because it’s hard to preserve things if you just keep cramming people into it.

“ The experience you go away with depends very heavily on what your preconception was before you got here,” said Hong.

A Chicago visitor educated on the nature preserve remarked, “its great to see how beautiful the bay is and regulations seem beneficial to preserving the fish and coral reef. The charge is low enough, so it’s not an unfair fee to enjoy the park, and the money seems to be put to good use,” said Jazmin Ubinas.

Summer operational hours begin at 6 a.m. and end at 7 p.m. daily except on Saturdays when the bay opens from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. The park is closed on Tuesdays. Parking is $1, Admission for nonresidents is $5 and residents are free with a valid state ID. For more information call 396-4229, or visit: hanaumabay hawaii.org.

 
Breathtaking view of Hanauma Bay, one of O‘ahu’s most popular locations for snorkeling and enjoying the rich abundance of inshore marine life.
 
Visitors enjoy Hanauma Bay, year in and year out one of O‘ahu’s most popular attractions.
 
HPU alumna Karla Ferguson-Cepeda relaxes in the sun.
 

 

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