COURTESY MAUI OCEAN CENTER
Keiki can get their hands wet at informational tables that teach individuals how to be better stewards of the ocean and aina.
Yao Ming dishes assist in shark effort
When Elizabeth Ortega, a marine naturalist at the Maui Ocean Center, met basketball star Yao Ming two years ago, little did she know she would inspire him to stand tall for ocean conservation.
Ortega was engaged in casual conversation with visitors at the center's Open Ocean exhibit when the 7 1/2 -foot tall star of the Houston Rockets walked in with his girlfriend and joined them.
When Ortega saw him, she decided to do a presentation on sharks on the spot.
According to National Geographic News, a median of 38 million sharks are killed worldwide each year for their fins, which are sold primarily to Asian markets for use in soup and medicinal practices.
"I told them how sharks play a crucial role in the food chain, but they are being threatened due to heavy fishing pressure," Ortega recalled. "I explained that sharks are important in keeping the oceans in a healthy state and fish populations in balance due to the fact that they are both scavengers and predators."
COURTESY MAUI OCEAN CENTER
Performances bring a touch of lightness to Oceanfest, geared toward getting individuals to think about their impact on the environment.
Yao listened quietly to her 20-minute talk, and when it was over, he came up to thank and take a picture with her. Two months later, newspapers across the country announced his pledge to give up eating shark's fin soup and to support wildlife conservation efforts.
Ortega likes to think Yao's visit to the Maui Ocean Center was the catalyst for his decision.
"I'm thrilled when I read about how he's making a difference and serving as a role model," she said. "My encounter with him showed me how important it is to continually share the conservation message because you never know who you're going to influence."
The Maui Ocean Center will be among the 300 aquariums, zoos, museums, universities, schools and businesses around the globe that will be sponsoring special events in conjunction with World Ocean Day (www.theoceanproject.org) on June 8.
That observance was launched in 1992 at the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro to encourage people to be caretakers of our oceans. It also calls attention to the harm of global warming, pollution, overfishing and carbon dioxide emissions.
"Many people don't realize how much we depend on our oceans," said Kate Zolezzi, the Maui Ocean Center's general manager. "They generate most of the oxygen we breathe, regulate our climate, and provide us with food and ingredients for medicines."
Set for June 6 through 13, the center's OceanFest will feature ocean art displays, entertainment, hula performances, cooking demonstrations and booths run by various environmental organizations. (The Pacific Whale Foundation, Hawaii Wildlife Fund, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Maui Invasive Species Committee are among those that have participated in the past.)
OceanFest offers opportunities for attendees to learn about the ocean and its amazing inhabitants, and to discover ways they can help protect them for future generations.
"No matter where we live, we are all connected to the ocean," said Zolezzi. "Healthy oceans are critical to our survival. They are our lifelines."
» Place: Maui Ocean Center, 192 Maalaea Road, Maalaea Harbor, Maui
» Dates: June 6 to 13
» Call: (808) 270-7088
» E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
» Web site: www.mauioceancenter.com
The Think Globally, Eat Locally World Ocean Day Dinner includes a gourmet buffet of sustainable seafood and Maui-grown products; a cooking demonstration and book signing by Michael Gallagher, author of "The Maui Chef Seafood Cookbook"; and entertainment by Nathan Aweau.
Prior to dining at the Seascape Maalaea Restaurant, attendees can visit the Maui Ocean Center's exhibits and interactive conservation stations with themes such as "Sustainable Seafood" and "Reef Etiquette." There will be a special presentation featuring a diver swimming amid fish, stingrays and six species of sharks in the "Open Ocean" exhibit.
"Think Globally, Eat Locally" will run from 6 to 10 p.m. Reservations are required. Tickets cost $65 per person and can be purchased by calling 270-7088.
June 7 to 8
OceanFest's weekend activities are included in the Maui Ocean Center's regular admission prices, set at $24 for adults, $17 for children 3 through 12, and $21 for seniors 65 and older. Kamaaina rates are $15, $8 and $13, respectively.
10:30 to 11:30 a.m.: Entertainment
11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: Storytelling and children's crafts in the Hawaiians and the Sea exhibit area
11:40 a.m. to 12:10 p.m.: Cooking demonstration by Chef Henry Tariga of Maui Ocean Center's Seascape Maalaea Restaurant, who was nominated for a coveted James Beard Foundation award in the Rising Star category this year
12:30 to 1:30 p.m.: Presentation by GAMEKIDS Performing Arts
1:45 to 2:45 p.m.: Performance by Na Hoku Hanohano award nominee Hulu Lindsey
10:30 to 11:30 a.m.: Performance by Alexa Keaunui-Vaught and Halau O Keaunui O Maui
11:40 a.m. to 12:10 p.m.: Cooking demonstration by Chef Henry Tariga
Noon to 2 p.m.: KPOA radio broadcast and prize giveaways with DJ Uncle Boy Kanae
12:30 to 1:30 p.m.: Performance by Na Hoku Hanohano award nominee Napua Greig and Halau Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka
1:35 to 1:50 p.m.: Ulalena performance
June 9 to 13
Naturalist presentations focus on international World Ocean Day efforts and conservation programs in Hawaii; call (808) 270-7000, ext. 3, for details. Children's crafts on June 10 and 12 provide hands-on ocean education.
"Sea Talk" on Hawaiian songs of the ocean by Hawaiian cultural expert and musician George Kahumoku Jr. The hourlong program in the Ocean Open exhibit starts at 6 p.m.; admission is free. Call (808) 270-7000, ext. 3, for details about other talks.
"Sleep with the Sharks" is an educational overnight experience for children in grades 3 to 8. Supervised by ocean naturalists, keiki will have the entire facility to themselves from 5:30 p.m. to 8 a.m. Activities include making crafts and feeding green sea turtles.
The cost of $60 per child (15 percent off for Maui Ocean Center members) includes a pizza party, a pancake breakfast, snacks, drinks and ocean-related souvenirs. An optional photo can be purchased for $10.
Space is limited to 25 children. Reservations are required. Sleep with the Sharks will be offered on Fridays through July 18, except July 4. Call (808) 270-7075.
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based free-lance writer and Society of American Travel Writers award winner.