A new reservation system for the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve to limit the number of visitors to the popular snorkeling spot when it reopens is under consideration by the City and County of Honolulu.
Last Wednesday, Honolulu City Council members approved Resolution 20-207, which would establish a reservation system to more accurately count, as well as limit the number of visitors, to Hanauma Bay under new COVID-19 restrictions.
“This will help from a public health standpoint,” said Lisa Bishop, president of the nonprofit Friends of Hanauma Bay, which supported the resolution. “Instead of just opening the gate and letting people come in as they want, this will help meter the number of people that are in at a given time. It will also help from an environmental standpoint.”
Hanauma Bay has remained shuttered since mid-March due to COVID-19 related restrictions aiming to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Since the closure, University of Hawaii researchers have observed the bay’s ecosystem renewing itself due to the reprieve from the constant flow of visitors to the nature preserve, one of Oahu’s most sought-after tourist attractions.
Researchers in May noted remarkable improvements in water clarity, along with the return of larger fish coming closer inshore, and more sightings of Hawaiian monk seals.
In addition, more coral appeared to be regrowing in certain parts of the bay.
“DPR is supportive of any measure that has the potential to improve the preserve’s conservation mission while also enhancing the visitor experience,” said the department in an emailed statement. “We are currently exploring the logistics of a reservation system described in Resolution 20-207, and how it would impact the various elements of Hanauma Bay. It is important to remember that operations at the preserve are maintained through admittance fees paid by malihini who visit Hanauma Bay.”
The department said it was simultaneously working on raising more funds, through Bill 44, which proposes increased nonresident entrance and vehicle parking fees while keeping admission free for locals.
On average, Hanauma Bay receives about 3,000 visitors a day, except for on Tuesdays, when it remained closed, and holidays such as Christmas and New Year’s. Last year, nearly 845,000 tourists and residents visited Hanauma Bay, according to the department.
In January and February of this year, the average monthly attendance was at about 62,000.
Bishop, who supports keeping Hanauma Bay closed through the end of the year, said the reservation system should be a useful tool for the city, and that places like Waikiki Aquarium have implemented one during the pandemic.
With current social distancing guidelines, not as many people can fit into the room used to view a mandatory film prior to entering the preserve, she said. Also, a reservation system can keep better track of the number of visitors to the bay — including early mornings or evenings — when the cash register is closed.
It’s also critical, Bishop said, that the department sit down with stakeholder groups, residents, and Friends of Hanauma Bay to determine how it would be set up fairly. A tour company, for instance, should not be able to block out 100 reservations in a row.
No reopening date for Hanauma Bay has yet been set.