Friday, February 9, 2001
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Posted on: Friday, February 9, 2001

Essence of Hanauma Bay threatened

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Staff Writer

If Mayor Jeremy Harris gets his way today, the essence of Hanauma will be forever changed.

At 9 this morning, the Board of Land and Natural Resources will consider the city’s permit application for a large new development in the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve.

Much of the development is meant to be hidden, disguised, almost camouflaged.

In fact, there are a couple of things that seem camouflaged in the city’s big vision for Hanauma.

The plan calls for landscaped berms to cover most of the 13,000-square-foot building on the rim above Hanauma Bay. Visitors would pay admission and be escorted through a Marine Education Center for briefings on the area. On the beach, new bathrooms and concessions would be set farther away from the water, a welcome change from the sad facilities there now.

It’s the plan for the upper part that has raised eyebrows. The development has been presented in the name of preservation, but some of us have a hard time accepting development on one side of the equation and preservation on the other with an equal sign in between, especially when the development includes a restaurant and gift shop.

The other camouflage is "education." Mayor Harris has positioned the development as crucial to teaching visitors how to use the place without messing it up. The classroom space, separate from the public briefing area, would serve as an outdoor classroom for Hawaii students — except that it’s indoors. (Aren’t field trips actually out in a field anymore?)

The plan is hard to question. Who would be willing to stand publicly and say they don't support education? For that matter, who would be willing to fight against efforts on behalf of the environment? It’s even hard to argue local and Native Hawaiian concerns because, face it, so few of us who live here think of Hanauma Bay as ours anymore.

I’m one of the legions of locals who hadn’t been to Hanauma Bay since Kamehameha Schools Explorations in the fifth grade. If you, too, haven’t been there in a while, just know the image in your mind of how crowded the place must be is nowhere near how crowded it is in real life.

But that doesn’t mean we should give up and cash in on the place. Yes, action needs to be taken to provide education to beach users and students. And, yes, Jeremy Harris is a marine biologist and he really wants to turn Hanauma Bay into the biggest, best living aquarium in Hawai’i. Even bigger and better than Ben Cayetano’s Kaka’ako Aquarium. And that probably has nothing to do with politics or legacy projects, or "my aquarium is bigger than your aquarium" or any of that stuff. Probably.

But the plans for the upper rim of Hanauma Bay, berm or no berm, seem to have too many money-making, souvenir-selling, Cobb salad-serving accoutrements to be solely about education and preservation.

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