I first visited Hawaii in 2000 when I was almost 15 years old. I had somehow convinced my grandma and mom that I should join them on their trip to Honolulu. (They were going during my high school’s exam break and, since I got good-enough grades during my first semester of grade 9, I didn’t have any that week.)
Hanauma Bay was a highlight of that trip. It was my first time snorkeling, and I wasn’t any good at it.
The signs and posters made it clear that we were not allowed to step on the coral—for good reason, as it kills the slow-growing creatures. It was my full intention to follow that policy, but when I tried to breathe into my snorkel, I would start to panic. The only way I could swim was if I removed the snorkel and fins and just used the mask, which meant I every so often stepped on the coral to take a break and breathe.
Hanauma (pronounced ha-now-ma) Bay has a long history. The curved bay was a common place for ancient Hawaiians to fish while they rested their canoes and waited for calmer winds in the channel. Images from this east coast attraction reached Honolulu early in the twentieth century; soon, greater numbers of city residents starting making the trek to this fishing spot. A few years after the second world war, the city built a road and washrooms and the bay became more popular than ever. But, without limits, the waters were soon overfished. In 1967, the state finally declared the bay a Marine Life Conservation District and prohibited fishing and the removal of any marine life, shells, coral, rocks, or sand.
This year, I got another shot at snorkeling at Hanauma Bay. The beautiful bay hasn’t changed much over the past decade and a half; the coral has the keyhole shape, and the turquoise and capri blue water is still spotted with colourful swimmers, just as I remembered.
As for me, I had a few more attempts at snorkeling—and several more underwater panic attacks—in between before I finally learned to breathe into a snorkel. This time, swimming with my siblings, I was able to glide over the carob-coloured coral and the vivid fish without stopping. I never resorted to coral-killing by pausing to take a breathing break.
Some things have changed over sixteen years. To further prevent degradation from visitors (like the fourteen-year-old me), a new education centre requires each visitor watch a video with important messages about conservation. The snack bar has moved up the hill, away from the beach. Now there are limits on the number of visitors each day. As for me, I graduated high school. Besides finally learning how to snorkel, I studied geography in university and now understand just how important it is to conserve our ecological resources and areas of natural beauty, like Hanauma Bay.
Have you ever revisited a country, city, or tourist attraction? How had it changed? How had you? Let me know in the comments below!
Hanauma Bay is closed each Tuesday to give the marine life a break. The park entrance fee is $7.50 per person, except for kids 12 and under. Snorkel sets are $20, but you can bring your own gear.
To get there, you can drive (note that parking is $1 and there are only 300 spaces; the lot closes when full, which commonly happens before 8am), take a shuttle from Honolulu, or take the #22 city bus—tickets are $2.50 each way, up from $1 in 2000.