HONOLULU (KHON2) — It’s been one month since Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell shut down Hanauma Bay and three weeks since all state and county beach parks closed.
Prior to the shutdown, hundreds, sometimes thousands of people, would visit places like Hanauma Bay, Molokini Crater and Shark’s Cove.
“This is an amazing time for biologist to get out and study fish behavior and marine mammal behavior with this unprecedented decline in tourism and use in general,” explained Brian Neilson, Division of Aquatic Resources administrator said.
“Unfortunately, we’re kind of at home like everyone else for the most part so we don’t nearly have as much staff out there as we’d like, but we have developed some protocols so we can safely get our biologist out in the field to check things out,” he said.
Since the shutdown, he said his staff has been counting fisherman, and conducting surveys on monk seals and green sea turtles. “We’re getting a lot of different anecdotal reports of schooling fish and much more presence of fish in areas like Molokini Crater. There are also reports of spinner dolphins in bays in West Hawaii that are much more prevalent and many more behaviors and activities that people haven’t seen in years,” Neilson said.
Due to the shortage of staff, his team isn’t able to survey things like the water quality without sunscreen and coral.
“Our best case scenario is that we’re able to get biologists out in the field before the flood gates open again for tourism so we would have a couple of weeks to get out there and document some of these observations.
Neilson said there might not be a big population increase so soon, but we could see fish moving to new areas. “That’s very likely and could be happening right now,” he said.
Hanauma Bay sees 3,000 visitors daily, except Tuesday’s when it is closed.
Researchers there are already seeing more fish coming closer to shore.
“Most of the fish are coming closer than we normally would see and the water clarity is better,” explained Kuulei Rodgers, associate researcher at the coral reef ecology lab at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.
She said they will look at how fish behavior is changing, if visitors are disrupting feeding patterns, or forging different species of fish.
On the North Shore, the group Malama Pupukea-Waimea have also seen notable changes to marine life at popular spots like Sharks Cove, Waimea Bay and Three Tables.
In just three weeks, Jenny Yagodich, director of educational programs for MPW, said they’ve seen a dramatic increase in marine life activity and an increase in the amount of juvenile fish swimming in tide pools.
“The rocks and the top of rocks are all starting to be covered in algae and that’s fantastic for an eco-system,” Yagodich said. “Normally all the feet scrub that [algae] off and we don’t get to see that and so we’re starting to see limu and algae pop up in places we have not seen it before.”
“We’re seeing such an increase in such a short amount of time. My big fear is the flood gates open back up and it’s just back to being a water park in a sense where it doesn’t get the chance to replenish,” she said.
Depending on what studies and research show with lack of human interruption, Yagodich said the board of directors for Malama Pupukea-Waimea could sit down with state leaders to discuss options. “Maybe slow it down or put a limit to what we’re seeing as far as human use goes,” she explained.