PHOTO: Hanauma Bay on Oahu was designated in 1967 as Hawaii’s first marine life conservation district. (via Thinkstock)
The Hawaiian Islands marked World Oceans Month in June with programs and events that showcased the wealth of marine life that makes it such a remarkable and compelling destination.
The Hawaiian Islands are well-known for their unique marine environments and species — including its incredible coral reef ecosystem that is protected in the federal Northwestern Hawaiian Island Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve.
Some great attractions throughout the Hawaiian Islands pay homage to this coral reef ecosystem and the numerous endemic marine species that greet visitors every year.
Here’s a look at the coral reefs and marine environments that make the Hawaiian Islands so special, and an overview of environmentally-conscious products that travel agents can add to their clients’ itineraries.
“RAINFOREST OF THE SEA”
The Hawaiian Islands sport some of the most unique coral reefs in the world. They boast 410,000 acres of living reefs in the main islands alone, encompassing a greater area than the landmass of Oahu.
That reef ecosystem — also known as “the rainforest of the sea” — feeds, shelters and provides habitats for fish, protects the shoreline from wave and sand erosion and helps in creating Hawaii’s famous white sand beaches.
The reef ecosystem in the Hawaiian Islands is populated by more than 7,000 known species of marine plants and animals. But it’s not just about the number of reefs that the Hawaiian Islands support.
Of the 7,000 or so known species of marine life that exist throughout the area, more than 25 percent are endemic to the Islands, and scientists are discovering new species regularly.
A Presidential Executive Order in 2000 created the Northwestern Hawaiian Island Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve, a protected area encompassing 84 million acres of ocean that is the largest conservation area ever established in the nation.
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In fact, the largest percentage of the coral reefs in the U.S. is found in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands (the 10 mostly uninhabited islets and atolls extending 1,200 miles northwest of the main Hawaiian Islands).
There has also been some work on the Hawaiian Islands’ part to preserve reefs. For example, Hanauma Bay was designated in 1967 as Hawaii’s first marine life conservation district. The protected fish in Hanauma Bay are estimated to outweigh most reef sites on Oahu by three to four times.
Additionally, more than 500 species of algae have been found in Hawaiian coastal waters. Algae, of course, are incredibly important. They are not only vital food sources for the ocean’s marine life, but also they are rather important for human life, producing an enormous amount of oxygen (more than all land plants in the world combined), and creating the compounds that are found in gelatin, jam and many other food products. Coralline algae are also responsible for creating much of the sand found on Hawaii’s beaches.
Across the globe, coral reefs account for billions of dollars in economic and environmental services such as food, protection for coasts and tourism. In fact, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), reefs alone provide up to 15 tons of seafood per square kilometer each year.
But coral reef ecosystems are also fragile.
According to NOAA, over 60 percent of the world’s reefs are under threat as it stands today, facing dangers such as climate change, unsustainable fishing and land-based pollution.
HOTEL COMPANIES CHIP IN
On World Oceans Day this past June 8, Honolulu-based Outrigger Resorts announced the launch of a global conservation initiative called OZONE (or Outrigger’s Zone) designed to foster the health and strength of coral surrounding the beach destinations where the company operates its resorts.
This came two days after Outrigger and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) signed a memorandum of agreement that stated their commitment to work together to support the conservation and education needs of the public.
OZONE was inspired by Geoffrey Shaw, former owner of Castaway Island, Fiji, and chairman of the Mamanuca Environment Society.
OZONE’s mission is to generate awareness about coral reef systems, while enhancing the guest experience at Outrigger Resorts beach properties through education and authentic interaction. Guests will be able to learn about the platform via in-room videos and on-property talks, as well as plant coral at participating Outrigger properties.
“OZONE is an action plan that charts a clear course for Outrigger to make a positive impact in helping to save and protect coral reefs and ultimately the wellness of waters around the world,” said Bitsy Kelley, vice president of corporate communications for Outrigger Enterprises Group, via a press release. “As a lifelong surfer, swimmer and snorkeler, ocean health is near and dear to my heart and I’m extremely proud that Outrigger Resorts has pledged significant resources and is aligning with key conservation partners for this important cause.”
She added: “With more than 500 million people around the world depending on coral reefs, it is our responsibility to ensure their future. However, we are the ones threatening its survival the most. And since coral grows at such a slow rate, the time is now to make a change.”
Strategic international partnerships for OZONE include NOAA, Polynesian Voyaging Society (PVS) and Pacific Islands Ocean Observing System (PacIOOS), as well as local organizations where beachfront properties are located, including the Waikiki Aquarium in Hawaii, Underwater World in Guam, Mamanuca Environment Society in Fiji, Reef Conservation in Mauritius and more. Corporate partners include Maui Divers Jewelry, Tori Richards and Best Dives Maldives.
The partnership between Outrigger and NOAA is the only partnership between a federal agency and an international hotel chain, according to the resort company.
Outrigger said that it plans to build on its dedication to the environment via current and future sustainability, and conservation initiatives will continue to demonstrate its dedication to the environment through existing and future sustainability and conservation initiatives.
For more information on Outrigger’s OZONE program, visit www.outriggerzone.com
HOW TRAVEL AGENTS CAN HELP
Travel agents can tell their clients about a couple of venues and experiences on the islands of Oahu and Maui that can educate visitors about the ocean environment across the Hawaiian Islands.
The Waikiki Aquarium is a major attraction on Oahu that simply doesn’t get enough attention and should be added to every itinerary.
The aquarium, established in 1904, is the second-oldest public aquarium in the U.S. It houses a variety of marine life, including invertebrates, fish, reptiles, marine mammals, and plants and seaweed. That includes crustaceans, mollusks, jellies, butterfly fish, frogfish, eels, parrotfish, sharks, rays, turtles, sea snakes and Hawaiian Monk Seals.
The aquarium also hosts a variety of exhibits and events throughout the year. There are exhibits on a wide range of subjects, from sharks and turtles to seahorses and — yes — coral reefs. Annual events range from tributes to World Oceans Month and Earth Day to an international koi show and family-friendly entertainment such as Animal Super-Powers, which celebrates different marine animals as superheroes.
Activities include “Afternoons at the Aquarium,” “Keiki Time” “Meet the Monk Seals,” “Behind the Scenes Tour,” “Aquarium After Dark,” “Exploring the Reef at Night,” “Summer by the Sea” and more.
In addition to its partnership with Outrigger Resorts, Waikiki Aquarium also works with a variety of other ocean-friendly organizations, while establishing programs to protect coral reefs, curb rain runoff and rescue and release marine animals.
For clients looking to explore Maui, the Maui Ocean Center is another major ocean-friendly attraction, housing the nation’s largest tropical reef aquarium along with hundreds of marine animals and over 60 exhibits.
Marine life includes tropical reef fish, octopus, moray eels, green sea turtles, sharks, stingrays, sea jellies and more.
The center doesn’t exhibit whales or dolphins in compliance with a County of Maui ordinance, and instead educates visitors through interpretive displays in the Marine Mammal Discovery Center.
The center also doesn’t perform animal shows but, again, this is a good thing. Maui Ocean Center displays the animals in realistic, natural environments and the animals are fed according to their needs.
Trained ocean naturalists do, on the other hand, give presentations about the animals. Behind-the-scenes tours, turtle encounters and presentations by special guest speakers are also offered.
The average stay at the Maui Ocean Center is roughly two hours, giving you a good idea of the extent of its exhibitions and activities.
For more information on the Waikiki Aquarium, visit www. waikikiaquarium.org. For more information on Maui Ocean Center, visit www. mauioceancenter.com.
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