Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Wednesday, November 3, 1999

Hanauma Bay fish
face new diet

BANNING fish-feeding in Hanauma Bay seems somewhat cruel, for the fish anyway.

I mean, one day you're swimming around gorging yourself on soggy bread balls and green peas and the next day you're swimming through a cloud of Coppertone, stared at by some creep in a mask and snorkel.

I don't doubt the need for the ban. Hanauma Bay may seem like nothing more than an enormous aquarium. But it actually is an ecosystem with a delicate balance that has been upset for more than 20 years by the infusion of millions of loaves of bread and enough green peas to gross out every 5-year-old in the world.

The problem is that green peas, bread balls and other human-supplied fish food aren't part of the natural order of things for ocean fish. They are supposed to eat natural forms of food, like each other.

Little fish are eaten by bigger fish, which are eaten by bigger fish, which are eaten by bigger fish until those fish are eaten by sharks, who are caught in long nets, have their fins cut off for soup and are thrown back in the drink to bleed to death.

Once you interrupt that chain, weird things happen, mainly certain breeds of fish move in and take over. Hanauma Bay is a classic example. At first you had really cute, colorful fish with names longer than their bodies. Tourists would feed these guys until they practically exploded. Word got out to other fish, who I call the Big-Lipped Mullet Moochers. The Moochers bullied their way into the bay like an underwater branch of the Gambino crime family.

THE mullets are not what you could call pretty, even by fish standards. They are gray and lunky looking, like old swimming sausages.

It didn't take long before the mullets were sucking up a shark's share of the bread balls and the cute aquarium-type fish had to make due with the scraps. The more food supplied in Hanauma Bay, the more fish there were. The bay no longer was a balanced ecosystem. It was what ocean scientists call "all screwed up." But even with the gray moochers getting most of the food, the cute little fish got more than they would if they had to compete outside the bay in the real world.

As of this week, feeding the fish is illegal. These little swimming food junkies that we created were cut off cold turkey. No one really knows what the immediate results will be. Already, the fish are acting agitated. Who can blame them? If someone fed me cheeseburgers and fries for 20 years and then one day told me to go chew on a chunk of coral, I'd be upset.

I'm no oceanographer, but I'd suggest that people stay out of Hanauma Bay for awhile, at least until the fish adjust. They're going to be hungry and cranky and might decide to supplement their diets with finger tips and ear lobes. Being nibbled to death by hundreds of angry, albeit colorful, fish is not a pretty sight.

I hope all this ocean resource management stuff doesn't get too crazy. Will there come a time when we'll be told that boating in Kaneohe Bay disrupts the napping patterns of hammerhead sharks? Or that surfing over certain reefs causes sea cucumbers anxiety?

Anyone caught violating the Hanauma Bay feeding ban faces up to a $1,000 fine and 30 days in jail. That shows how serious authorities are about protecting the fish. You could mug a wino and not get that kind of time. You could probably rob a pet shop and get probation. Unless you tossed some bread balls in the aquarium on your way out.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802
or send E-mail to or

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