There's good news at too-popular Hanauma Bay on Oahu.
Waikiki it isn't-yet. But on some days Oahu's Hanauma Bay State Underwater Park comes pretty close. Visitors flock here to snorkel among an extravaganza of tropical fish. Show up late on a summer morning, though, and you confront a full parking lot, wall-to-wall beach towels, and, in the water, a flortilla of waders and snorkelers blocking your piscatorial views. So why bother with Hanauma? Some marine biologists argue that you shouldn't. But, just 10 miles east of Waikiki, this crescent-shaped cove with its turquoise waters remains one of Hawaii's most beautiful, accessible spots to put on a snorkel. And some good news bas emerged of late: attempts at limiting crowds, a fine new program of guided tours, and the chance that Hanauma might one day be part of a national park. Is a beautiful bay being loved to death? Used by early Hawaiians as a canoe launching site, Hanauma Bay was set aside as Hawaii's first underwater conservation area in 1967. Since then it has drawn 21/2 million visitors a year. Such popularity has its perils. The tread of waders' tennis shoes has destroyed much of the bay's coral reef and denuded it of seaweed. With these food sources gone, fish depend on the handfuls of bread and frozen peas (now prohibited) and trout chow (still allowed) tossed to bring fish within mask view. So much food has been cast onto these waters that the fish population has soared to far more than the bay would naturally support. Last year the Honolulu Department of Parks and Recreation, which manages the bay, took action. It stopped sightseeing buses and vans from dropping tourists off at Hanauma, limiting them to a 15-minute viewing stop. (Some tour companies now bus visitors to nearby shopping centers, then ferry them to the bay by taxi.) Hanauma's salvation may be the establishment of other underwater reserves. One suggestion is Waikiki, which has plenty of fish but no vulnerable coral reef. Visiting on your own, or with a group Summer hours are noon to 7 Wednesdays, 6 A.M. to 7 Pm. Thursdays through Tuesdays. Park manager Alan Hong suggests you visit before 9 or after 3:30, when crowds are thinner, the water less turbid. If you come by car, expect a 15- to 20minute wait for a parking space during peak midday hours. From Waikiki, it's a $20 taxi ride or a 60-cent ride on The Bus 22 (Hawaii Kai/Sea Life Park). Currently 12 operators hold annual permits to lead underwater tours at Hanauma; 9 more permits are given out on a monthly and daily basis. Check fliers at your hotel, or look under Scuba Diving Tours in the yellow pages. Prices average $60 a day for a scuba or snuba tour, $24 a day for snorkel tours, with half-day snorkel tours at $12. A new tour, a new national park? If you'd like to know more about Hanauma Bay, join one of the free 20-minute tours sponsored by the University of Hawaii's Sea Grant program between 12:30 and 3:30 Wednesdays, 8 and I Thursdays through Tuesdays. Tours start at the education desk on the beach and are led by members of Friends of Hanauma Bay, a group that works for the bay's protection. For more information on tours, write or call Friends, c/o Sea Grant, 225 Marine Science Building, University of Hawaii, 1000 Pope Rd., Honolulu 96822; (808) 956-2870. Early this year, citizen interest prompted the Park Service to begin studying Hanauma for inclusion in a possible national seashore. For details, write to Friends of Hanauma Bay at the address above. For more on snorkeling and diving in Hawaii, including Oahu, see "Underwater Hawaii" in the April 1990 Sunset. 1-1