Hanauma Bay is one of Oahu’s top tourist destinations, but it has been drastically impacted due to COVID-19.

Normally, 3,000 people visit Hanauma Bay everyday. Since the coronavirus spread to Hawaii, the bay has been closed to visitors for months.

“I remember coming here in the late 50’s and early 60’s and I mean there were still a lot of people, but nothing like it is now, so it’s very sentimental for me to see this,” Dr. Kuulei Rodgers, a lead researcher at Hanauma Bay, said about seeing the beach being empty.

Researchers like Dr. Rodgers are using the shutdown to study the bay and learn about the impact visitors have on it.

“Are [the fish] feeding more or less? Are there more predators? Things like that. We’re also looking at the flight initiation distance when you approach [the fish], how soon will they take off?” Dr. Rodgers said about some of the things researchers are looking at.

Sarah Severino is another researcher at Hanauma Bay. She said the closure is helping researchers provide important information to the city.

“This is the only opportunity that we’ve ever had to look at how tourism is impacting Hawaii and with this break, it’s really important that we utilize it wisely,” Severino said.

The research is used to help the City and County of Honolulu make decisions about how the bay is run.

“Right now, we are working with City and County to help them with their management styles, so we provide recommendations after we submit a yearly report to them,” Severino explained.

While researchers are still collecting data, Dr. Rodgers said anecdotally she is seeing a change.

Dr. Rodgers said there appears to be more fish, and the water is significantly more clear compared to when visitors frequented the bay.

“What we did in 2019 was we looked at non-Tuesdays and Tuesdays when it was closed, and we found that it was 30% clearer,” Dr. Rodgers said about the water clarity.

Now, Dr. Rodgers said Hanauma Bay appears to be even more clear everyday than when the bay was closed on Tuesdays before the COVID-19 shutdown.

Dr. Rodgers said the closure could also be impacting behaviors of Monk Seals. She said they appear to be laying out on the beach in places they wouldn’t normally when Hanauma Bay was open to the public.

“You know there are monk seals that come to Hanauma bay at times, but they don’t go to the key hole,” Dr. Rodgers said about an area of the beach that is typically packed with visitors.

On Tuesday, Jun. 16, a monk seal was laying out in the key hole area. Dr. Rodgers said it was unusual.

“It’s hard to tell because there’s not a lot of monk seals, but they are coming in places they haven’t been before,” she said.

Currently, there is no reopening date set yet for Hanauma Bay.