Ocean Watch

By Susan Scott

Monday, August 30, 1999

Let’s support renovations
at Hanauma Bay

LAST week I took some mainland visitors to Hanauma Bay. We went there to go snorkeling, of course, but I had other goals too. I wanted to look at the facilities there to see if the place really needs the $9 million face lift currently being proposed by Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris.

As we drove into the paved parking lot, I reminisced about how the place was when I first moved here in the early 1980s. Parking then was mostly helter-skelter in a red-dirt field. "Religious" groups sold T-shirts and soft drinks from makeshift stands. Private tour buses belched in and out all day loaded with hoards of people

IT was no way to treat this jewel of a park, and city officials agreed. Over the years, they imposed limits on the number of people who could visit the bay, built some new structures and instituted a visitor fee.

But today, the place still looks down-at-the-heels. It's little things, but they add up to make the park seem like it belongs to a developing country.

For instance, there was no water in the water fountain near the ticket booth. I might not have noticed this except that -- after my friend turned the handle and found the fountain dry -- she said, "I suppose this is their way of forcing you to buy bottled water."

I know that's not true, but she didn't. It wasn't a good first impression.

All the buildings, both up top and down at the beach, need help. The ones at the top look like they were built for displays and shops but are being used for offices. Cute kiosks are shut tight and filled with spare furniture. The big building at the bottom is old and ungainly.

ANOTHER objective I had in visiting the bay was to check out the reef flats on the inside of the bay. In a recent paper on coral reef growth, University of Hawaii oceanographer Rick Grigg wrote that coral hasn't grown there for 2,000 to 3,000 years. Of the shallow, inshore area, 90 percent is covered with algae; 10 percent is bare limestone.

This means that, contrary to popular belief, people didn't wreck the inside coral reef by walking on it, or doing anything else to it. The first people in Hawaii didn't arrive until at least a thousand years after the coral was dead.

Rather, sea level dropped, the coral died and coralline algae grew over the top of the coral skeleton. This is the pink, bumpy, rocklike stuff you see under and around the seaweed growth on the rocks.

Coralline algae is tough stuff. It survives big surf, exposure during low tides -- and people's feet.

I was thinking about this when a worker on an all-terrain vehicle yelled with a bullhorn at a 10-year-old boy, "Do not stand on the reef! You're damaging our reef!" The kid was standing on a rock because his mask was leaking and he was too short to stand up in the sand. The harsh reprimand frightened him so much he stayed near the shoreline the rest of the day. I'm not saying we should let people tromp willy-nilly all over the inside rocks. Seaweeds, invertebrates and fish thrive there. But instead of going up and down the beach yelling at people, why not put workers in the water to help beginners?

Hanauma Bay desperately needs a good education center, a first-class operation that teaches people, in a pleasant way, current scientific principals. Besides a much-needed face lift, such a teaching center is also part of the mayor's proposed plan. A public hearing on these plans is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Sept. 7 at the Hawaii Kai Library. Hopefully, residents will support the idea of renovating the finest park in our state.

Marine science writer Susan Scott's Ocean Watch column
appears Mondays in the Star-Bulletin. Contact her at

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