HONOLULU — The Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve reopened to the public after a nine-month break because of the coronavirus pandemic in pristine condition due in large part to its extended closure.
The bay, which reopened Wednesday, has water that is now 64% clearer than it was before the pandemic, said Lisa Bishop, president of Friends of Hanauma Bay, a conservation group.
“(Hanauma Bay) looks exactly as it did 30 to 40 years ago,” said Michele Nekota, the director of the city Department of Parks and Recreation, which operates the bay.
A new limit of 720 visitors per day has been implemented because of the pandemic, said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell. Visitor attendance hovered around roughly 3,000 visitors per day in 2019.
“For the first time in more than 40 years there is no sunscreen in the water, no artificial sedimentation, no people walking on the reefs,” Bishop said.
A number of other rules will be enacted as a result of the coronavirus. The bay, which had been closed every Tuesday since 1998, will now also be closed on Mondays. Hours will be reduced from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and all visitors must be out the doors by 4 p.m.
Entrance fees for nonresidents have been increased from $7.50 to $12. Entry is still free for state residents with a valid ID and children younger than 12.
The facility’s gift shop, education center, concession stands and rental facilities will be closed. City bus service into the bay will remain suspended.
Three cars carrying visitors that were not intending on swimming in the bay were turned away at the gate on Wednesday, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.
Bishop said she would like the new rules to stay in place for at least a year to allow newly planted corals to form a sustained habitat. She also said it would provide time for scientists from the University of Hawaii to conduct studies on the differences in fish behavior and water clarity after visitors begin pouring in.
Nekota said she expected the rules to stay in place for at least one to two months.