Hanauma Bay Preserve reopens, with restrictions

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The Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve reopened to the public on Dec. 9.
The Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve reopened to the public on Dec. 9.

The Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, a popular snorkeling and swimming destination on Oahu, reopened on Dec. 9 with new protocols that include limiting the number of visitors.

The nature preserve, which shut down in March, will be capping visitors at 720 each day, less than half of the 2,000 who would normally visit on a given day before the pandemic. The sheltered bay on Oahu's southeastern coast is managed by the Honolulu Department of Parks and Recreation could expect as many as 840,000 visitors annually prior to 2020.

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At a press conference announcing the reopening, Honolulu mayor Kirk Caldwell said the government is attempting to balance access to recreation with conservation. In addition to the limit on visitors, the preserve will be closed two days per week (Mondays and Tuesdays) rather than the previous one day per week. The area will be open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a maximum of 120 people admitted per hour until the maximum of 720 is reached.

The new regulations do not permit access for taxis, shuttles or buses, and no tours or other commercial activity will be allowed at the preserve. Additionally, all out-of-state visitors must now pay $12 for entry, an increase from $7.50.

Currently, all visitors to the preserve must wear face coverings when not swimming, and facilities such as the gift shop, food concessions and snorkel and locker rentals will remain closed.

After a couple of months under this pandemic pilot program, the city plans to reassess the situation, Caldwell said.

During the press conference, Lisa Bishop, president of Friends of Hanauma Bay, said in the nine months Hanauma Bay has been closed the water clarity and health of the coral reef have significantly improved. And scientists and researchers conducting studies at the nature preserve during the shutdown have reported a return of wildlife not typically seen at the bay, such as Hawaiian monk seals.

"For the first time in over 40 years, there is no sunscreen haze from chemical sunscreens on the water," Bishop said.

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