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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, August 18, 2002

Hanauma stop will be kind to marine life

From now on, first-time visitors to Hanauma Bay will find it harder to make a beeline for the cool, clear water with their snorkels, masks and fins.

After purchasing a ticket, they'll be guided to the new Hanauma Marine Education Center, whose interactive exhibits and video will teach them about the ecology, history and marine life of the nature preserve.

And why shouldn't newcomers get a thorough introduction to one of Hawai'i's most popular attractions? Hanauma Bay draws more than 3,000 visitors a day. That's a lot of wear and tear.

If they understand the fragility of the preserve's ecosystem — including the need to keep a distance from federally protected sea turtles — they might think twice before clambering aboard the coral with their big fins. Besides, the video is only 7 minutes long.

The mandatory education stop is by no means a first in Hawai'i. Visitors to the USS Arizona Memorial are required to watch a movie before taking a boat out to the memorial.

Of course, there was much concern when Mayor Jeremy Harris proposed the project back in 1999. In retrospect, it looks as though the opposition helped create a tastefully unobtrusive structure.

Indeed, architecturally speaking, the center is pretty impressive. Nestled into a hill, the cavernous 12,000-square-foot-building — complete with a small theater, exhibit space, snack shop and gift shop — has been created with faux rocks of varying shades, with native landscaping helping it blend in with the environment.

Some new rules, however, have irked visitors. For example, food and drink concessionaires have been banned from the park's ocean level because of environmental concerns.

But since they're allowed to take their own food and beverages to the beach, we're not sure how effective this rule really is.

As for the cost of the center, the jury's still out. The price tag rose from $10.6 million to $13 million, and we'll be interested to see if that figure changes after we calculate the cost of all the change orders.

Ultimately, though, we're relieved to see that the education center blends beautifully into the landscape and has great potential to teach visitors respect for the marine life.