Haunauma Bay focuses on environment

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HONOLULU -- This summer's grand opening of the $11 million renovation at Haunauma Bay will decrease crowds and give clients a mandatory crash course on environmental preservation and safety.

The centerpiece of the project, whose summer completion date still is uncertain, is an environmental education center where the viewing of a video will be mandatory for the 2,000 to 6,000 visitors who come to the bay each day.

The video, which will last up to nine minutes, will be seen by up to 125 visitors at a time.

The multilingual video will tell visitors not to break off parts of the reef to take home, stand on the reef and feed the fish. It also will talk about safety.

The showings are designed to slow the flow of people onto the beach and into the water, as well as to educate visitors.

Before going to the beach on busy days, visitors will have to take a ticket that holds their place in line to see the video. While waiting to see the video, they will be able to picnic in the park; browse a new, open-air exhibit area; or visit the gift shop, run by the Waikiki Aquarium.

"The beauty of it is that they don't have to wait in line," said Allen Hong, Hanauma Bay manager. "We anticipate that groups of 70 to 80 will see the film several times an hour."

Hanauma Bay is located at the foot of a cliff. Visitors must walk down a path from a parking lot and park area to reach the beach and snorkel area below.

The video education area, open-air exhibit area and a visitor information desk will be near the upper parking lot area -- covered with dirt and grass so they blend in with the surroundings.

The scene on the beach below will be more natural, said Hong, while featuring new bathrooms and a snorkel rental facility.

The new bathrooms were built into the side of the cliff, and the new snorkel rental facility looks like a Hawaiian hut, said Hong.

A snack bar on the beach was moved to the park area.

The open-air exhibit will give visitors a feel for the bay's history; its ties to Hawaiian culture; the geology, flora and fauna of the area; and marine life preservation, said Hong.

He noted that the city has worked to reduce the number of visitors to the bay from 3 million a year in 1990 to 1 million a year today.

"These days, we get a maximum of about 6,000 visitors a day and that sounds staggering, but it is nothing compared with the 12,000 a day we used to get before we put in restrictions," said Hong.

"Before we restricted the number of visitors ... the place was always packed, and the water was full of soggy bread that people would bring to feed the fish," said Hong.

The preserve banned fish feeding in November 1999.

Today, the number of visitors is restricted to how many cars will fit in the parking lot at one time, and tour buses are banned from bringing in tourists to snorkel. Buses are allowed to come into the parking lot to allow their guests a look at the bay, but not to drop them off.

"As a marine biologist who used to take people on reef walks at Hanauma Bay, I was embarrassed by it," Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris said.

"We treated Hanauma Bay the way a Third World country would, with fast food restaurants on the beach.

"Now we are nearing a complete redesign."

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