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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, August 17, 2002

New Hanauma exhibit a hit

By Shayna Coleon
Advertiser Staff Writer

Pictures of a bright yellow butterfly fish and green sea turtles popped up on a computer screen in front of 6-year-old Nicholas Agustin as he tapped on one of the new touch-responsive computers yesterday at the Hanauma Bay Marine Education Center.

Residents and visitors streamed into the city's new Hanauma Bay Marine Education Center, a $13 million interactive educational center which opened yesterday.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

The Waipahu boy, with his grandmother and cousin, looked mesmerized by the interactive technology. His mouth spread into a wide grin when one picture came up, and he shouted, "Ooh, a starfish! That's cool!"

Agustin was just one of 1,500 residents and tourists who streamed into Hanauma Bay to experience the $13 million Marine Education Center during the first three hours after the gates opened at 7 a.m.

By noon, a line snaked out to the parking lot to get in during the center's blessing ceremony, and by the end of the day about 8,000 people were expected to visit Hanauma Bay — a huge increase compared to the 3,300 people that visit on an average day, Lee said.

The only glitch came early in the morning when the bay's two new trams wouldn't start and "mechanics were still trying to fix them," so the two older trams with less space were used to take the visitors down to the bay, said Ben Lee, city managing director.

"It's beautiful; we have nothing like this where we are from," said Beauty Snyder, 33, who was visiting with her husband and a friend from Windsor, Ontario. "It's nice to see educational information available for us."

Maite Bonis, 41, of Waimanalo added, "We're big on snorkeling and the ocean, so the more we can learn, the more we can appreciate."

The Marine Education Center was designed to give visitors a brief overview of the geology, history and biology of the bay through interactive computer exhibits, a gallery area and a video, which first-time visitors are asked to watch before they go down to swim at the bay.

Before entering the center, visitors were given tickets for the video, and while they waited for their designated show time, they played with the interactive computers, browsed in the small gift shop and read the numerous displays filled with information about the bay.

Deborah Yamaguchi, 43, said she arrived at the preserve with her 7-year-old daughter, Kimberly Ann, at 7:15 a.m., and the drive from their Mililani home was worth taking to see the new Marine Education Center.

"I think it's great," said Yamaguchi, pointing to Kimberly Ann, who almost had her nose pressed against one of the computer screens. "We were about to leave (at 10:45 a.m.), but she wanted to play with the computer again."

And even the slightly older folks had a blast.

Clarence Young, 80, of Salt Lake said he enjoyed the center because it was free for Hawai'i residents, and "that will make more people come if they have not been here for a long time." A $3 admission fee for the bay will still be collected from nonresidents.

Throughout its construction, critics complained that the Marine Center would not look natural and would spoil the popular nature preserve, but even skeptics were surprised by the outcome. The city used faux rocks cast and colored from natural formations at the site, and native plants to hide the structures and utilities.

"I was worried," Bonis said. "I thought it was going to be this big, ugly cement thing. But the center fits nicely into the natural environment."

Lena Kanemori, a retired elementary school computer teacher, said she didn't even know the rocks were fake.

"It looks so real and blends right in," she said.

Mayor Jeremy Harris, who attended the opening ceremonies, said he was pleased with the turnout and the positive feedback toward the Marine Center.

"Virtually every important project has been met with a great deal of controversy, whether it was the Waikiki Bandstand improvements or this," Harris said. "Everyone thought it was going to be an eyesore, but as you can see, it's not."

Reach Shayna Coleon at scoleon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8004.