It was pleasant outside the Waikiki Aquarium in the early summer sun of Monday morning as light tradewinds blew and, across the street in Kapiolani Park, shower trees blossomed in a profusion of yellow and pink.
It was especially nice for Erica Cadiz-Sales and her family, who were having their first outing since the coronavirus lockdown, said Cadiz-Sales as she sat on the grass under the palm trees with her three children, brother, sister-in-law and two nieces, all wearing cloth masks, as they waited to be admitted at 10 a.m., the time for which she’d registered online.
“The last time we came here was last year,” said Cadiz-Sales, adding that her children, who love the ocean and its creatures, had missed the aquarium. They’d stopped by the previous week, and, learning it was still in coronavirus closure mode, her son Nathan, 5, had cried.
Nathan said the eels were his favorites because “they swim, go in holes, go deep.”
Monday was the first day of the aquarium’s “soft” reopening, which it was celebrating with a weeklong “Mahalo Medic” program, providing free and exclusive admission to Hawaii medical professionals such as Cadiz- Sales, a registered nurse at The Queen’s Medical Cen- ter, and their immediate families.
The aquarium will reopen to the general public Monday.
Reopening rules include limiting visits to one-hour, pre-reserved slots, with a cap of 50 visitors per hour, and both free and paid admissions require advance reservations via the aquarium’s website.
“I wanted to recognize the extraordinary contributions that these underappreciated folks have made not only during the COVID pandemic, but every workday,” said Andrew Rossiter, the aquarium’s director, whose eyes beamed a welcoming smile above his cloth mask as he stood outside on a walkway freshly stencilled with shapes of monk seals, sharks and turtles as reminders to keep social distancing.
“Also, for the soft opening, I wanted patrons who were aware of, and would follow, appropriate COVID safety protocols,” Rossiter said, adding he’ll be asking attendees for recommendations on how to improve the aquarium’s safety measures before the public opening next week.
“I like this controlling the number of guests and not giving out stamps or change — no more penny machines for now,” said staff member Cynthia Lee, who manned the front desk behind a new Plexiglas shield.
Throughout the exhibits, children and adults alike exclaimed with wonder.
“This is great, look at the cuttlefish,” said Landis Lum, a family practice physician at Aloha Free Clinic in Kalihi.
“I saw the eel,” Nathan Cadiz-Sales said. “Oh, a yellow tang, and, holy macaroni, what is that?”
“I think it’s a catfish,” said his mother.
Outdoors by the monk seal enclosure, Megan Xu, a nurse at The Queen’s Medical Center, and her son Xander, 1, walked with a friend and her daughter, also 1.
“We’re quarantine play-date buddies,” Xu said, noting that the moms also took their toddlers to the beach together.
Others said this was the first time they’d ventured out with their children. “We only went to my family’s house,” said Christina Okimoto, a respiratory therapist at Kapiolani Medical Center, as she held her sleeping daughter, Logan, 3.
“This is our first family outing in months,” said Candace Kumimura, a pharmacy technician at The Queen’s Medical Center, as she and daughters Courtney, 8, whose favorites were the sea horses, and Amber, 10, who liked “the colorful reef exhibit with the giant clam,” admired the sea dragons.
Hoailona, the aquarium’s 12-year-old monk seal, gobbled hand-fed herring and squid and obeyed verbal commands from his trainer, senior aquarium biologist Johnathan Casey. The seal held still, touching a “target” float with his nose, rising vertically out of the water and spinning.
Nearly blind from birth, Hoailona had been abandoned by his mother as an infant and couldn’t survive in the wild, but had adapted with his other senses, learning new skills, Casey said.
One couldn’t help but see a similar resilience, patience and alacrity in the aquarium’s human visitors as they emerged carefully from confinement.
MEDICAL WORKERS’ FREE TICKETS
For more information:
>> Call 923-9741
>> Website: waikikiaquarium.org/visit/hours