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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, July 30, 2001

Island Voices
Hanauma access fee worth it

By Robert H. Schmidt
Manoa resident

Is a $3 access fee for non-Hawai'i residents to visit Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve unfair, illegal, ineffective or burdensome? California resident Carol Daly seems to think so, and she has filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Honolulu to right this matrix of wrongs.

What was the city thinking when it established such a draconian fee policy? How could our city leaders, the professional park managers and our media overseers have allowed this to happen?

Oh, I remember. The nearshore environments of Hanauma Bay were being trashed by thousands of visitors a day. The beach was a gigantic ashtray. Shallow reefs were sidewalks to be stepped on with huge rubber-ducky feet. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pounds of bread, peas, corn and other foods were mixed in the bay's waters daily, spiced as Hanauma poke with fresh urine and tanning oils.

These impacts were pretty obvious, especially to those Hawai'i residents using the bay on a regular basis. The past decade has seen a variety of programs developed to protect the Hanauma Bay ecosystem from ... people.

One program currently in place is that all visitors pay a $1 parking fee per car (residents and nonresidents alike), and that nonresident visitors over the age of 12 years pay an additional access fee of $3 per person. The vast majority of these funds are being used by or for programs related to the bay.

How unfair is the amount of this access fee? For the price of a large skim milk latte, you can swim face–to-face with parrotfish, surgeonfish and triggerfish. For about a fifth of the cost of a CD or DVD, you can see your kids' eyes practically pop out of their sockets as they yell through their snorkel, "Look!" If you've been there, you know this is true. Rather than being a financial burden, Hanauma Bay is one of the biggest bargains on O'ahu.

How effective is the fee at keeping visitor numbers down? For this purpose, it is not effective at all, and I don't think it was ever meant to be. The paltry access fee does not affect visitor numbers. Rather, numbers are affected by vehicle access. Parking lot space limitations, as well as restrictions on tour buses disgorging packs of sightseers, has made an impact on absolute numbers.

I like the concept of beach access being a fundamental right. But I also understand that the primary lesson in "the tragedy of the commons" is that uncontrolled access leads to uncontrolled use, and eventual degradation of natural resources.

The biggest negative factor affecting the bay is total visitor numbers. The vast majority of visitors, probably 80 to 90 percent, are nonresidents. These nonresidents affect the Hanauma Bay ecosystem in only a single positive manner: by contributing a $3 access fee for projects to mitigate all of the negative impacts.

It is eminently fair that those making the negative impact to resources belonging to residents of Hawai'i pay for programs to prevent and repair those impacts.

Hanauma Bay is a place to put your head in the water, and not in the sand. For visitors unhappy with the $3 access fee, here's an alternative strategy: March right up to the Hanauma Bay cashier's window and state firmly your refusal to submit to this onerous attack on your beach-going rights. Then give them a $100 donation.

Do this and I guarantee that you will be invited back. Along with the sights and sounds of a living reef complex, that's not a bad memory to take back home.