Recent columns in Civil Beat have focused on the effects of tourism on the people and environment of Hawaii.

One, in particular, “Paradise Has A Price, So Stop Giving it Away,” persuasively argues that Hawaii ought to charge tourists for the use of our natural wonders.

As an example, the author points out that we charge visitors for entry to Hanauma Bay but not for other beautiful beaches and natural sites. He goes on to ask why Hanauma Bay is always full, the price has not been raised,” and claims that “Hanauma Bay instituted a fee based system in 1996 and the system is credited with helping to rejuvenate the reef and the web of marine life that depends on it.”

The author says the city is falling short in properly helping maintain Hanauma Bay.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Unfortunately, the assertion that the fee at Hanauma Bay has helped rejuvenate the reef is erroneous. Despite charging tourists entering Hanauma Bay, and receiving income from the authorized concessions, the reef has not been rejuvenated, and few financial resources have been dedicated to doing so.

The city has failed to use the Hanauma Bay fund established in 1996 to conduct required annual Carrying Capacity Studies of visitor impact on the marine ecosystem in the bay for almost 20 years.

The city has not maintained visitor levels at 3,200 per day as was recommended in the 2000 baseline Carrying Capacity Study, and in fact has not maintained an accurate visitor count for almost 20 years. On busy summer days, it is not unheard of that 5,000 people could crowd the beach.

Broken Facilities

Further, city policy is not to include any sunscreen education in the Hanauma Bay orientation video or to develop a proactive sunscreen education program despite Hawaii’s landmark ban on certain chemical sunscreens.

Even if it were true that there has been rejuvenation of the reef, it would not be related to the entry fees but to a ban on fish feeding that was instituted in 1998 and the effective but now outdated 1990 management plan that reduced the overall number of visitors to the bay from over 3 million per year to about 1.2 million per year.

“It is not unheard of that 5,000 people could crowd the beach.”

Despite the Hanauma Bay Fund, the money from which can be used only at Hanauma Bay, the city consistently has not operated and maintained the facilities and infrastructure at Hanauma Bay at the world-class level the Fund is capable of supporting, and the “Jewel of Oahu” deserves.

The Friends recently received an email from a visitor at Hanauma Bay. He said, “I was wondering if Friends of Hanauma Bay were aware of how deplorable the facilities at Hanauma Bay have become. The Ewa restrooms have been closed for years, the middle rest rooms are broken down, broken showers and toilets almost zero water pressure.”

The letter adds, “Of the two shower stations by the tram only one works. Add to that the filthiness and it makes you wonder who is running the bay and what their priorities are. If you folks could do anything about this it would be great. The management seems incapable of helping.”

The Friends of Hanauma Bay agree that visitors should be charged for the use of our natural resources. We agree, too, that entry fees should be raised at Hanauma Bay, but only if there is certainty that those fees are properly expended for recovery of the reef and maintenance of the facility.

The city’s history of not spending money in the Hanauma Bay Fund to support the preservation, operations, and maintenance of Hanauma Bay is an object lesson for charging visitors for using resources in Hawaii.

Advocacy groups will have to be vigilant to ensure that fees are going to the resource that tourists are paying to use.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

About the Author

  • Bob Kern
    Bob Kern is vice president of Friends of Hanauma Bay. He was a community representative chosen to serve on the mayor’s committee that developed the bay's Visitor Education Center, and has been a volunteer with the Hanauma Bay Education Program for 20 years.