Hanauma Bay (possibly too much of a good thing)

Jun 4, 2021 | General Information

This is a story of failure. This is also a story of success. Whether the balance tips in favor of success or failure is a subjective decision and you can decide.
One of the most incredible coastal bays in all the Hawaiian Islands is located on the southern coastline of the island of Oahu facing seaward toward the island of Molokai. This extinct crater head or caldera is an iconic landmark in Hawaii and it is known for its famous Hanauma Bay. Almost perfectly round in shape this bay was created by some of the last volcanic activity to occur on Oahu. Unlike the slow moving lava generally associated with Hawaii’s volcanic flows the volcanic activity that created Hanauma Bay was fast and violent. It left in its wake a crater with steep walls that filled with ocean water in a protected environment that provided a special place for coral reef to survive concurrently with its attendant fish and sea life that love to live in the coral.

So what happened? In a word, ‘overuse’.
When tourists started to come in mass to Hawaii in the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s they quickly discovered this ‘close to Waikiki’ phenomenon and began to visit it with a vengeance. The tourist establishment on Oahu was complicit as well in providing bus after bus after bus to ferry tourists into the area and little thought was given to the proper treatment of the bay’s ecosystems. Beach goers inundated the waters, collided into each other as they swam in mass and inadvertently knocked each others face masks off with a swat from their snorkel fins. Being somewhat shallow in places they even stood up on the coral itself breaking off pieces and causing harm to the plants. Oiled with sunscreen of all varieties they poisoned the pristine seawater and caused illness among the sea life on this once pure underwater sanctuary.
This may seem a familiar refrain as things play out on this planet in much the same way in many different environments. It brings to mind Joni Mitchell’s famous song lyrics ” Don’t it always seem to go…That you don’t know what you’ve got… Tlll it gone … They paved paradise… And put up a parking lot”.
Then (and this is the success part) Hawaii in its collective wisdom, realized its destructive path with regard to Hanauma Bay and made regulations to protect its beautiful bay. It limited the number of people having access daily to the bay. Swimmers were required to watch a short film regarding what to do and not do in the waters while snorkeling before entering. The bay was closed entirely on Tuesdays so the fish and coral could catch a breath and go about their daily business without being continually spied upon by humans with face masks. A fee was charged for entry to assist in protecting the bay.
And this is where we are at today. We have a Hanauma Bay that is not quite as beautiful as it once was but it is recovering and at some point in the future it may regain its pristine beauties of yesteryear. So I leave it to you………..Should Hanauma Bay be considered a Hawaii success story, or a failure? You be the judge.