LIHUE — After a short tour of the Kauai Ocean Discovery center, Renee Janton and Mahealani Pontius came away with the same impression: “Amazing.”
“I’m super stoked that there’s something like this available to people that are coming to the mall to get more education about the ocean and all of our families in the ocean,” Janton said.
“It makes my heart really happy to see that,” Pontius said. “With more education about the ocean, I feel like the kids will have an opportunity to have a cleaner and safer ocean and to learn more respect.”
About 100 people, including many excited keiki, attended the grand opening of the long-awaited educational site at Kukui Grove Center on Saturday. It featured hula, music, a blessing, and plenty of speeches and thank yous.
The Hawaiian creation chant, “Kumulipo,” could be heard as the doors opened and the crowd began filing in.
The Kauai Ocean Discovery center is a partnership of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and KGC.
Its exhibit and activities are free, Tuesday to Sunday. Visitors can learn about whales, monk seals and sea turtles. They visit an underwater world through video, check out interactive displays and try hands-on activities.
Keiki Corner provides ocean-themed fun and learning, and there will be weekly and monthly programs.
The center will create opportunities for people to gather, connect and develop solutions to protect the oceans and strengthen stewardship, said John Armor, director of NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.
He said there are so many issues affecting the oceans today that it can be overwhelming. That’s why he was delighted with the creation of Kauai Ocean Discovery.
“It’s moments like this that give me hope for the future of the ocean that our children and our grandchildren are inheriting from us,” he said.
Jean Souza, Kauai program specialist for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, has played a key role in bringing the new facility to the shopping center. She read a note from Puanani Burgess, a Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner, titled “Kakou is a big idea.”
“It includes so many more than us, it includes the many-legged, beings that crawl on their bellies, the furry, scary and odd, the sky, the ocean, the wai, see that tree, that weed, flower and bee, all are part of kakou, of us, of we.
“So when we think of who are the citizens of Hawai‘i nei, how do we include all of us, how do we hear and see and include what they know and need?
“Let us give thanks to the people, our ancestors, who understood and embraced the fundamental idea of kakou.”
Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami said he grew up at the shopping center and watched it transform “into a true community gathering spot that’s not just focused on selling you things, but educating our kids, providing a safe atmosphere and venue for entertainment.”
He said for those who live on the islands, the ocean is everything, and he would have loved something like Kauai Ocean Discovery when he was a boy. It will open eyes and minds to the world below the water’s surface, he added.
“Many of us are not thinking about what’s underneath,” he said. “That is going to allow the people of Kauai to fall in love with something that many of us are in love with.”
Melissa McFerrin-Warrack, Kukui Grove Center spokeswoman, said the grand opening of the center was an exciting time that started with a phone call a few years ago from Souza to her.
“From that moment it’s been a wonderful journey working together,” she said. “It’s such a great gift for us.”
“What a wonderful gift for us to have an opportunity to learn more,” she added.