Researchers say the nature preserve is facing significant threats from climate change.

Hanauma Bay was voted best beach in the United States in 2016. But if researchers are correct, 88% of the bay’s sandy beach will be gone in just seven years.

That’s according to the results of a five-year study by the University of Hawaii Manoa’s Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology. The study spanned a nine-month closure of Hanauma Bay during the pandemic in 2020 and looked at biological, physical and social carrying capacities of the bay, located in southeast Honolulu near the Hawaii Kai neighborhood.

Hanauma Bay visitos.
The sandy area of Hanauma Bay could be 88% underwater by 2030, a new study predicts. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021)

Researchers used models that show the combination of the lowest predicted sea-level rise of one-half foot and the highest tide will result in the jaw-dropping loss of beach at Hanauma Bay, according to a news release Wednesday.

“The predictions of the extent that sea level will impact the usable area at Hanauma Bay was eye-opening,” said Kuʻulei Rodgers, researcher at Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.

“It will assist management in preparation and to develop recommendations, other alternatives and solutions,” she said in the release.

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is “one of the most spectacular natural resources in Hawaii,” according to the City and County of Honolulu’s website.

Overuse of the popular bay by millions of visitors annually led Honolulu officials to create a plan in 1990 to restore Hanauma Bay by reducing the number of visitors, instituting restrictions and setting up a marine education program. It became the first Marine Life Conservation District in Hawaii after the plan was adopted, according to the website.

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