HAWAII KAI, Hawaii (KHON2) — Hanauma Bay, which has been closed since March, reopened to the public on Wednesday for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. However, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell says there will be a few changes to help protect the preserve’s environmental health.

Get news on the go with KHON 2GO, KHON’s morning podcast, every morning at 8

The nature preserve normally welcomes an average of 3,000 people a day. But during its eight-and-a-half month closure, researchers say the water appeared 64 percent clearer, with more large fish and monk seals frequenting the area.

“COVID has been difficult for everybody all around the world, but environmentally it has been the best thing for Hanauma Bay in 100 years. Since it was closed to visitors, it has demonstrated a natural ability to rejuvenate itself. For the first time in over 40 years, there’s no sunscreen haze on the water, there is no artificial sedimentation in the water so that corals aren’t being drowned from snorkelers and swimmers,” said Friends of Hanauma Bay President Lisa Bishop.

WATCH: Mayor Caldwell announces reopening of Hanauma Bay

Due to the lack of visitors at the Bay, marine life is also frequenting the area.

In June, Dr. Kuulei Rodgers, a lead researcher at Hanauma Bay, spoke to KHON2 about the natural changes she saw with the bay.

Among those changes was the return of marine life. Dr. Rodgers said that animals, like monk seals, were seen in places where they normally wouldn’t be when Hanauma 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.

But following the closure, Dr. Rodgers observed a monk seal laying out in the key hole area. She said it was unusual.

As visitors begin to return to the bay, Mayor Caldwell says they will need to comply with the following measures:

  • Face coverings must be worn at all times
  • Hanauma Bay will be closed to the public on Mondays and Tuesdays
  • Vehicular and pedestrian entry will be allowed from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Visitors must leave by 4 p.m.
  • The number of visitors allowed to enter will be capped at 720 a day.
  • Access into Hanauma Bay will be limited to 30 individuals at a time.
  • All visitors will be required to watch an educational video, despite prior visits.
  • City bus service into Hanauma Bay will continue to be suspended.

The mayor explained that the new measures will help protect the environmental health of the bay as it begins to welcome back visitors.

As part of the measures, non-resident visitors will be required to pay an entrance fee to $12 instead of the former $7.50.

Caldwell explained that that the increase in visitor fees will help support the preserve without putting a strain on local residents.

“As a fiscally responsible nature preserve, Hanauma Bay has served as an amazing model of how to focus on both the recreational needs of the community and the conservation of its natural resources,” said Michele Nekota, Director of the Department of Parks and Recreation. “We see these new operations as a pilot program, which we hope can improve efforts to learn from, enjoy, and maintain Hanauma Bay in this pandemic era.”

Latest Stories on KHON2