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Waikiki Aquarium closes for second time during COVID-19 outbreak

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Kalvin Bilog, 6, jumped with excitement as he viewed the Hunters on the Reef exhibit at the Waikiki Aquarium with his parents Mark Bilog and Maureen Ballesteros and brother Matthew, 2, on June 29.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Kalvin Bilog, 6, jumped with excitement as he viewed the Hunters on the Reef exhibit at the Waikiki Aquarium with his parents Mark Bilog and Maureen Ballesteros and brother Matthew, 2, on June 29.

The Waikiki Aquarium has closed for the second time since March because of the impacts of COVID-19.

The aquarium will close indefinitely starting Thursday following Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s “Act Now Honolulu — No Social Gatherings” emergency order, which was announced Tuesday in response to a spike in coronavirus cases on Oahu.

Caldwell’s order limits both indoor and outdoor gatherings of more than five people for 28 days starting today.

Director Andrew Rossiter said the aquarium’s small gallery can get crowded quickly and was one of the deciding factors in deciding to close the aquarium.

“The space is very limited, and it’s easy to get 10 or more people in one gallery at the given time,” he said. “They might not come in as groups of five, but effectively they are when they’re in there. So, out of an abundance of caution, we decided to close.”

Rossiter said he had intended to close anyway because COVID-19 has stopped all forms of revenue for the aquarium.

“The revenues are not meeting the operational costs. Again, it’s COVID-related,” he said. “There are no are no tourists … plus the local folks aren’t visiting as often as normal because they’re obviously concerned about COVID.”

Operational costs run around $125,000 per month, Rossiter said. He explained that $660,000 is provided by the state per year, which covers nine employees, but the other 27 positions are covered by “gate receipts, donations, gift shop and facility rentals.”

Aside from the 12 employees involved in either facility maintenance or animal care, aquarium staff will work from home, he said, but added that there have not been any furloughs yet.

Rossiter said he is keeping the aquarium afloat by “selling off the future of the aquarium” by spending money that had been saved over the last dozen year or so for future projects and renovations. Still, he said that money will last“a month, probably less” without an infusion of funding.

He is currently exploring other sources of funding for the aquarium and said he is “cautiously optimistic” that the aquarium can get funding.

“It is, after all, the state aquarium of Hawaii. We get around 260,000 visitors a year, which makes it one of the most effective outreach units of the University of Hawaii. 30,000 school kids visit every year,” Rossiter said. “So, I think it’s a valuable community resource and deserves to be supported.”

The aquarium first closed in March in response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Hawaii, and reopened to the public in late June.

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