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Hanauma Bay has always been a must-see location for both tourists and locals in Honolulu. But thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the park has been closed for almost nine months.

That all changed Wednesday, when the nature preserve reopened to visitors, who found a much-improved site.

Nature had taken the last nine months of privacy to heal. Water clarity has drastically improved, marine life has grown and flourished, and the coral reefs have had time undisturbed by human activity.

“We are thrilled to be able to invite the public back to one of the most spectacular features on Oahu while modifying how we manage this nature preserve to keep it thriving for generations to come,” Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said in a statement.

Fish among the coral reef at Hanauma Bay in Hawaii.

The History Of Hanauma Bay

Located about 10 miles east of Waikiki Beach, Hanauma Bay was formed within a volcanic cone. It offers a pristine marine ecosystem and some of the best snorkeling in the world. It features hundreds of tropical fish, with about a quarter exclusive to Hawaiian waters, as well as sea turtles, monk seals, and other marine life.

But the ecosystem had begun to show damage due to the large number of tourists. Close to one million visitors a year converge on the preserve, stepping on the coral, kicking up sediment, and taking to the water with sunscreen that was reducing its clarity.

But after nine months of inactivity, scientists have noticed a return to its natural state.

Lisa Bishop, president of the Friends of Hanauma Bay, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that the water is 64 percent clearer than it was pre-pandemic.

Hanauma Bay, a popular tourist destination in Hawaii.

The Future Of Hanauma Bay (Plus What To Know Before You Go)

“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 told the Star-Advertiser.

And officials are hoping to keep it that way. Drastic measures are being taken to reduce the number of visitors to the preserve to allow it to continue to recover.

“All of these measures are in place to balance conservation efforts, safety of the public and staff, and the ability to responsibly enjoy this world-class environmental feature,” Mayor Caldwell said. “We appreciate everyone’s patience as we implement these new procedures.”

Among the new rules:

  • Hanauma Bay will be open Wednesday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Visitors will be capped at 720 people per day, with the last entry at 2 p.m. each day.
  • Fees for non-residents to park and enter the nature preserve have been increased to $3 for parking and $12 for entry of nonresidents older than 12 years old. Those under 12 remain free.
  • Commercial activities in all capacities will not be allowed inside Hanauma Bay, including taxis, shuttles, buses, and tour operators including sightseeing, snorkel, or scuba tours.
  • The city bus will not be operating within Hanauma Bay.
  • Basic facilities are open, including the showers, bathrooms, parking lot, and beach.
  • All visitors will be required to watch an educational video before going down to the beach. You cannot skip the video, even if you have watched it before.
  • The gift shop, food concession, and snorkel and locker rental facilities will remain closed. The public must bring in their own snorkel equipment.
Hanauma Bay, a popular tourist destination in Hawaii.

“We see these new operations as a pilot program, which we hope can improve efforts to learn from, enjoy, and maintain Hanauma Bay in this pandemic era,” said Michele Nekota, Parks and Recreation director.

City and county officials noted that Hanauma Bay is not a “beach park” for beach sport, but a nature preserve dedicated to maintaining the fragile marine life in the bay. It is the first Marine Life Conservation District in the state.

“Hanauma has served as an amazing model of how to focus on both the recreational needs of the community and the conservation of natural resources,” Nekota said.

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