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Hawaii's Backyard | Travel

Maui Ocean Center teems with life aquatic

    Summer activities at the Maui Ocean Center include visits with the inhabitants of the center's Turtle Lagoon.
    The Maui Ocean Center's 750,000-gallon saltwater "Open Ocean" exhibit is home to more than 20 sharks, a half-dozen stingrays and thousands of fish.

Maui Ocean Center kicks off the summer with a full slate of special events and activities that reveal the wonders of the undersea world without wetting a hair on visitors’ heads! The center also features 60 indoor and outdoor exhibits inhabited by creatures ranging from tiny coral polyps to 7-foot sharks.

Coral: It’s Alive!
» Dates: Wednesday to June 30, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
» Cost: Included with admission

One of Earth’s oldest and largest ecosystems, coral reefs provide shelter for 35 percent of the ocean’s inhabitants as well as food and income for millions of people around the world. In their daily presentations, ocean naturalists discuss coral’s importance for food, medicine and other purposes. From 11 a.m. to noon daily, visitors can peer at the Discovery Cart’s coral, copepods, sea jellies and other fascinating marine animals through microscopes. The cart will be set up in the Living Reef exhibit.


» Address: 192 Maalaea Road, Maalaea Harbor

» Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (open until 6 p.m. in July and August)

» Admission: $25.50, $22.50 for ages 65 and older, $18.50 for ages 3 through 12, 10 percent discount for online purchases at least three days in advance. Kamaaina rates available at front gate are $15.75, $13.75 seniors and $8.75 children. Ask about MOC’s weekly pass, good for seven days.

» Information: Go to; email; call 270-7000.

» Tours: Self-guided. Audio guides may be rented for

$3 per person or $8 per family (up to six audio guides).

» Annual memberships: $55, $50 for ages 65 and older, $42 for ages 3 through 12, $165 for a family. Benefits include unlimited daytime admission, monthly e-newsletter, 20 percent discount on tickets for up to four guests, 15 percent discount on merchandise and food.

» Special events: The center can arrange parties, weddings, special events, private tours and tours for groups of 20 or more. Educational programs include school field trips and Ka Holo Moana, a mobile aquarium that brings a tide pool filled with invertebrates to schools and events. In addition to overseeing the hands-on experience of touching live reef animals, a naturalist makes a presentation on a marine science topic.


For this activity (offered Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays year-round), participants descend 20 feet into the Open Ocean exhibit’s 750,000-gallon tank for a close look at stingrays, eagle rays, six species of sharks and dozens of species of tropical reef and pelagic fish.

The adventure begins with a short DVD introducing the program, the animals that live in the Open Ocean and the cultural significance of sharks to the Hawaiian people.

Then it’s time to don the gear. The air tank and weight belt are provided; divers need to bring everything else. During their 30 to 40 minutes in the water, they can feed spotted eagle rays, search for shark teeth in the sand (a cool souvenir) and snap photos with their underwater camera.

» Time: 8:15 to 10:45 a.m.
» Cost: $199, including admission for the diver and one guest. Divers can also bring up to four other guests at a 20 percent discount.
» Restrictions: Participants must be certified scuba divers and at least 15 years old. This activity is limited to four divers per day.
» Reservations: 270-7075


‘I Love Marine Life’ Photo Contest
» Dates: Entries accepted Wednesday to Aug. 1
» Cost: Free

Have great photos of underwater life that were taken at the Maui Ocean Center or in the ocean off Maui? Be sure to enter them in this contest. Two winners — one selected by a panel of MOC judges, and the "People’s Choice" by center visitors — will receive annual center membership and free admission to the Maui Photo Festival’s opening night gala Aug. 24 at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa. Ten finalists will receive a one-day pass to the ocean center, and their pictures will be displayed at the festival and on the center’s website.

Fins and Flippers Tour
» Dates: June 7, 14, 21, 28 (Tuesdays), 11:30 a.m.
» Cost: $10 plus admission
» Reservations: 270-7088

Accompanied by an ocean naturalist, participants will learn all about hammerhead sharks and green sea turtles on a one-hour behind-the-scenes tour of the Hammerhead Harbor and Turtle Lagoon exhibits. They’ll even be able to participate in a supervised feeding.

World Oceans Day
» Date: June 8, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
» Cost: Included with admission

In 1992, delegates at the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, discussed the idea of launching an annual event that would encourage people to reflect on the importance of oceans and ways to be good stewards of the planet. In 2008 the United Nations officially designated June 8 as World Oceans Day.

This year the MOC will join more than 700 other leading educational institutions in dozens of countries to celebrate World Oceans Day. Naturalists will give presentations on ocean, land and energy conservation; cards listing ways people can help protect coral reefs will be distributed; and eco-friendly organizations will explain how they are helping to keep Hawaii green. A 86-minute documentary, "A Sea Change" (www.asea­, will be screened continuously every day in June.

Sleep with the Sharks
» Date: June 24, 5:30 p.m.-8 a.m. the next morning
» Cost: $60, includes pizza dinner, continental breakfast and snacks. Center members receive 15 percent discount.
» Reservations: 270-7075

Touch the skin and teeth of a shark. Feed green sea turtles. Observe sea animals that glow in the dark. Make ocean-themed crafts, play ocean-themed games, watch an ocean-themed movie and more. It’s all part of a fun, educational sleepover aimed at children in grades 3 through 8. This activity also can be arranged for schools, birthday parties, Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops or any other group of 15 to 30 participants.

Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features have won multiple Society of American Travel Writers awards.

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