Maui History Underwater

A nearly intact Curtiss SB2C-1C Helldiver rests just outside Maalaea Harbor. The plane crash-landed after a training exercise gone wrong in 1944, though both the pilot and radio operator emerged safely. -- ED ROBINSON photo

A nearly intact Curtiss SB2C-1C Helldiver rests just outside Maalaea Harbor. The plane crash-landed after a training exercise gone wrong in 1944, though both the pilot and radio operator emerged safely. — ED ROBINSON photo

MAALAEA — As the scuba divers slip farther into the depths of Maalaea Bay, the hulking shape of a seven-decade-old, coral-encrusted airplane looms into view. The wreckage is almost completely intact, its wings stretched wide across the ocean floor, its underbelly lodged in the sandy bottom.

It’s been sitting there since its pilot and radio operator ditched it during a botched training exercise in 1944.

“I get very excited finding these types of sites,” said Hans Van Tilburg, maritime heritage coordinator with the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. “As archaeologists, we’re always seeing something in the present, and then in our mind’s eye doing some time travel.”

Above water, traces of Maui’s World War II history are visible around the island. In Haiku, 4th Marine Division Memorial Park reminds visitors of Camp Maui, where Marines relaxed and trained for warfare. In an empty field alongside Mokulele Highway, a two-story concrete communications building stands alone in what was once the bustling site of the Puunene Naval Air Station. But several remnants of Maui’s role in the global conflict are underwater — rarely seen by residents or visitors.

For the past three years, a team of divers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Hawaii has been documenting underwater wreckage around the islands, the first inventory of its kind in the state. To find the sites, researchers have relied on Navy records, newspaper clippings, local divers and underwater surveys.

The engine of a F6F Hellcat sits at the bottom of Maalaea Bay. Hellcats accounted for 75 percent of U.S. Navy air victories in the Pacific, but some ended up in the waters off Maui during training. -- ED ROBINSON photo

The engine of a F6F Hellcat sits at the bottom of Maalaea Bay. Hellcats accounted for 75 percent of U.S. Navy air victories in the Pacific, but some ended up in the waters off Maui during training. — ED ROBINSON photo

They count 404 confirmed wreckage sites of planes, ships or major parts around Hawaii. All told, there are 2,120 confirmed and possible sites that have yet to be found but are detailed in historical records. The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management funded the study and plans to release it soon, Van Tilburg said during a presentation at the Maui Ocean Center on Thursday.

Once home to a major air station and training grounds, Maui has its share of underwater wreckage. Most sites are along the South Maui coast, with a handful off West Maui and the north shore.

Troops preparing for combat in the South Pacific used the island to rehearse operations. Barbed wire was strung up and down the Kihei coastline to simulate the shores of Iwo Jima. Keawakapu Beach had an amphibious training pier where Navy personnel learned embarkation techniques like climbing rope ladders.

“Amphibious tactics, that strategy, was really developed in the ’30s and came to fruition during the war, and is the reason we were successful in the Pacific, I believe,” Van Tilburg said.

Meanwhile, the Puunene Naval Air Station grew to become one of the major flight training stations in the country, excellent for hosting large numbers of squadrons and for practicing night combat tactics. From this base, countless aircraft launched — and some ended up at the bottom of the ocean.

Hans Van Tilburg, maritime heritage coordinator with the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, talks about crashed planes and shipwrecks in Maui waters Thursday night at the Maui Ocean Center. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Hawaii’s Marine Option Program have documented wreck sites around the islands to create the first inventory of its kind in the state. -- The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

Hans Van Tilburg, maritime heritage coordinator with the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, talks about crashed planes and shipwrecks in Maui waters Thursday night at the Maui Ocean Center. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Hawaii’s Marine Option Program have documented wreck sites around the islands to create the first inventory of its kind in the state. — The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

Just outside Maalaea Harbor, the wreck of a Curtiss SB2C-1C Helldiver sits submerged. Local fishermen and dive operators knew of the site and, to the delight of researchers, the wreckage is mostly intact, with a visible serial number that helped pinpoint “the exact incident that led to its demise.”

“Helldivers were dive bombers. It was their job to climb really high and plummet toward their target, release the bomb and then pull out at high G’s,” Van Tilburg said. “They were heavy and they splashed in quite frequently. This was perilous business.”

On Aug. 31, 1944, pilot William E. Dill and radio operator Kenneth W. Joe were doing combat exercises. As they were pulling out of a second steep dive, mounting pressure twisted the plane’s vertical tail assembly, “resulting in complete loss of rudder control,” according to the U.S. Navy’s crash report. They tried to fly back to Puunene but realized they weren’t going to make it and had to ditch the aircraft in the water. Both climbed out to safety.

In a shallower section of Maalaea Bay, an F6F Hellcat is broken up along the ocean floor, where diver Roger Pannier stumbled upon it around 1983, longtime Maui diver Ed Robinson said. F6F Hellcats were “excellent fighter aircraft” that accounted for 75 percent of U.S. Navy air victories in the Pacific, Van Tilburg said. Over time, the wreckage of the Hellcat has fallen apart under restless ocean movement, though the three-blade radial engine and steel landing gear are still fairly intact.

“Often the only things we find on really heavily impacted aircraft wreckage sites is the engine, maybe the prop and the landing gear,” Van Tilburg said.

In 1945, upward of 540 aircraft were lost in Hawaiian waters.

“That averages out to one or two splashing in every day for the entire year,” Van Tilburg said. “That is a tremendous statistic. That is the commitment in material, in production and sometimes in lives that we made just for training in Hawaii.”

Planes aren’t the only sunken military vessels off Maui. In Makena Bay, the hulls and tracks are what remain of an LVT-4 (landing vehicle tracked). The amphibious vehicle was an innovation for its time because it allowed troops to unload onto the beach via ramp, instead of climbing over the sides and further exposing themselves to enemy fire. While not as “glorious” as a battleship or cruiser, “this was the meat of the game,” Van Tilburg said.

All of the known wreckage around Maui was due to training accidents, though researchers don’t have information on how many resulted in casualties, Van Tilburg said.

The wrecks aren’t too eerie, he added. They’re mostly just peaceful fish habitats.

“One thing about these wreck sites is that they’re always home for fish,” he said. “I’ve always told students, ‘Fish love their history.’ But I think what the fish actually like more than that is not being eaten by bigger fish.”

Unfortunately, some sites have been disturbed, like the PB4Y-1 Liberator that Doug Niessen found in more than 200 feet of water off Olowalu around 1985. When Robinson photographed the wreck of the long-range naval patrol aircraft in 1987, the plane boasted twin .50-caliber machine guns. In 2006, only one was left, and it wasn’t due to natural deterioration.

“Those are divers that came and took that machine gun out of this historic property,” Van Tilburg said.

State and federal laws protect historic properties, he explained. The Sunken Military Craft Act says that military aircraft and ships remain the property of the federal government unless Congress takes them off the list. Sunken wreck sites are federal property, and damaging them can lead to consequences with the Navy.

More wreckage is yet to be discovered, not only from World War II but also from the sugar plantation days of the late 1800s, but that, Van Tilburg said, is a presentation for another day.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at [email protected].

Mala Pier Dive – Maui-Hawaii – Lahaina Divers

Some of us Salty Dogs made it over to Lahaina, Maui to go on a two-tank dive with Lahaina Divers this last Friday.  Being that it was Spring Break high season, we appreciate Lahaina Divers fitting us into their busy schedule and taking us to Mala Pier.

Mala Pier is a quick boat ride from the marina in Lahaina.  It was a fun day.  We saw a lot of sea life and visibility was good.  Thanks, Lahaina Divers!

Salty Dogs crew poking around the dive boat.



Beautiful island of Maui.

White Tip Reef Sharks resting.

Frog Fish

Strange Nighttime Open-Ocean Diving

Every night in the open ocean zooplankton migrate toward the surface, away from their deepwater daytime habitat. They are followed by a large and diverse community of fish and invertebrates in what is called “diel vertical migration.” By scuba diving in the open ocean at night, so-called “blackwater divers” are some of the few people on Earth who get to see these weird and wonderful animals up close. “Blackwater diving really speaks to scuba divers that have seen most of what the reefs and wrecks have to offer and want to experience something completely different—a drifting, night dive miles away from shore in an environment where you will never see the bottom,” says Hawaii-based ecologist and underwater photographer Jeff Milisen. “What makes this dive so special is that it is completely unpredictable. With such a variety of animals inhabiting the epipelagic [uppermost] zone, even seasoned blackwater dive leaders frequently see animals and behaviors they have never experienced before. The list of possible encounters is as deep as the ocean.”

This unusual type of scuba diving was started in Hawaii and is practiced in a handful of other locations including Japan, Norway and Russia. Based in Kona on the west coast of Hawaii’s Big Island, Milisen leads dives a few times each week. There, you can get into very deep water after a very short boat ride. “From out there, the city lights from the island seem pretty distant,” Milisen says. “The divers are usually pretty experienced, but even still, the imaginary night monsters running through their heads seem very real. It often takes a few moments for the first brave diver to gather the gumption to suit up and jump in.”

Although Milisen has encountered a variety of potentially dangerous sea creatures, from sharks to predatory squid that can grow up to three meters in length, he has never been injured. “Fortunately, just like with nearshore predators and normal scuba divers, big animals don’t want to take the chance of injury to eat something as strange as us,” he says.

Still, he understands why the thought of it makes some people nervous. “The unknown is a scary thing,” Milisen says. “The general public assumed that Jacques Cousteau was destined to become a meal for some strange sea creature, mostly because he was doing something different that people understood very little about. I don’t think the public would have guessed that he would eventually die of a heart attack at home at 87.”

Milisen encourages adventurous scuba divers to give blackwater diving a try, because you’ll get to see some amazing things. “The animals in blackwater seem mysterious because they are new to us as divers, and not a lot of people get to see them in their natural environment,” he says. “Most of the animals have been studied by somebody somewhere, but most specimens are dead and degrading in alcohol. The behaviors are often completely undocumented!”

Ocean Ramsey Beautiful Shark Protector

All images courtesy of Juan Oliphant/@OneOceanDiving/@juansharks

All images courtesy of Juan Oliphant/@OneOceanDiving/@juansharks

If some people are destined for a specific career, then Ocean Ramsey— yes, that’s her real name—was meant to become a preeminent shark and marine researcher and conservationist. From her home base on Oahu, Ramsey has traveled the world to study sharks in their diverse habitats and bring awareness to the threat that numerous shark species currently face.

She’s also an advanced free diver (a diver without a breathing apparatus), scuba instructor, business owner, and designer. When she’s not traveling the world free diving, she’s at home in Hawaii working at her own company, One Ocean Research and Diving.

Her cause went viral when she was caught on tape riding the back of a fully grown great white shark with no cage or other protection. There’s also the fact that she’s attractive enough to be a model and does much of her work in barely-there bikinis.

All images courtesy of Juan Oliphant/@OneOceanDiving/@juansharks

All images courtesy of Juan Oliphant/@OneOceanDiving/@juansharks

Maxim spoke to the gorgeous 30-year-old scientist about conservation work, eco-activism, and what it’s like to literally ride a great white.

How did you get into shark conservation?

My parents love the ocean, and I imagine part of the reason I love that environment must come from growing up the way I did. I have a degree in marine biology, specialized in ethology (animal behavior), and studied specifics on shark body language, how they establish their social hierarchy and avoid confrontations.

All images courtesy of Juan Oliphant/@OneOceanDiving/@juansharks

All images courtesy of Juan Oliphant/@OneOceanDiving/@juansharks

But I realized that if I only focused on studying sharks and publishing papers, then another 600 million sharks would die while I conducted my six-year study. That realization was the point when everything clicked. I knew I needed to take the science, conservation, diving, and all aspects to a new level with a new approach, so I co-founded the company One Ocean Research and Diving.

All images courtesy of Juan Oliphant/@OneOceanDiving/@juansharks

All images courtesy of Juan Oliphant/@OneOceanDiving/@juansharks

What does your organization do?

My company has a team of mostly female marine biologists who take people out daily to dive with sharks and learn about their biology, physiology, behavior, body language, and how we humans can adapt our own behavior based on our scientific understanding of sharks and their role in the ocean ecosystems. This is all to aid us in creating safer, and more fun, interactions.

All images courtesy of Juan Oliphant/@OneOceanDiving/@juansharks

All images courtesy of Juan Oliphant/@OneOceanDiving/@juansharks

Are sharks really in such peril?

Currently, shark populations have been decimated, with most shark species seeing 90 percent declines, and many species are being pushed to the brink of extinction. The beautiful (and toothless) whale shark, the largest fish and shark in the ocean, was just moved to endangered-species status a few months ago, joining the hammerhead on the growing list of shark species that are quickly being wiped out due to many wasteful practices. Shark finning and regular shark sport fishing are the two biggest causes of these declines.

Anyone up for a little iguana yoga? (All images courtesy of Juan Oliphant/@OneOceanDiving/@juansharks)

Anyone up for a little iguana yoga? (All images courtesy of Juan Oliphant/@OneOceanDiving/@juansharks)

You gained a lot of attention when a video surfaced of you riding an enormous great white named Bella. What was that like, and how did it happen?

Honestly, I worry that beautifying the experience may entice others to try for a similar experience, which would be a bad idea. But truthfully, some of the absolute best moments of my life have been free diving with white sharks. There is nothing like it, and there are no words that can do it justice.

I’ve been studying and working with more than 30 species of sharks around the world for over a decade, and that GoPro footage of Bella and me was not at all my first time diving with white sharks. I spent years going in and out of cages and absorbing as much time and qualitative information as I could watching them interact with one another. Interacting with sharks is very humbling. I feel a tremendous honor being able to share their space and have them treat me as an equal or similar predator.

All images courtesy of Juan Oliphant/@OneOceanDiving/@juansharks

All images courtesy of Juan Oliphant/@OneOceanDiving/@juansharks

If you don’t mind me saying so, you are an extremely beautiful woman. Do people ever underestimate your expertise or professionalism because of how you look?

I hope that if any of my talents, features, or natural gifts can be used to better highlight the message I am trying to share…then I am grateful that I can be a voice, a spokesmodel, if you will, for them. It’s ironic that sometimes they title photos of me with sharks as “Beauty and the Beast,” when to me sharks and nature are absolutely gorgeous. I did a lot of modeling in my 20s and am still signed [with agents], but every time I get a call to do a project I’m either on our company’s boat or on an international conservation effort.

All images courtesy of Juan Oliphant/@OneOceanDiving/@juansharks

All images courtesy of Juan Oliphant/@OneOceanDiving/@juansharks

What makes the Bahamas so unmatched for a shark scientist or marine biologist?

The Bahamas is a special place because it is protected from shark fishing. It’s a marine-protected area for sharks, meaning that sharks can thrive, existing in plentiful numbers. It’s a world-class destination for diving with and studying tiger sharks, greater hammerheads, nurse sharks, lemon sharks, and Caribbean reef sharks. The warmer, shallower waters mean that diving to observe and study shark behavior is easy and practical for longer periods of time.

I definitely recommend Staniel Cay, where they have cute nurse sharks and adorable swimming pigs, or venture to Tiger Beach to see enormous tiger sharks.

All images courtesy of Juan Oliphant/@OneOceanDiving/@juansharks

All images courtesy of Juan Oliphant/@OneOceanDiving/@juansharks

What else should we know about sharks, and how would you recommend we get involved?

I am grateful I get to dive with them daily, and the more I study and learn, and the more time I spend with them, the more my understanding, appreciation, and respect grow. They really are one of the most amazing animals on the planet, and anyone who has ever been lucky enough to go diving with them knows how true that is. I highly encourage people to go out and take the plunge and go for a dive with sharks with a well-educated and experienced guide. Sharks are apex predators, not puppies, but they are not monsters.

My organization’s message is simple. Humans and sharks can coexist, and we need sharks to exist because they affect us all. From the air we breathe to the majority of protein the human population consumes, we all rely on the ocean, and sharks are a vital component of a thriving, productive ocean and planet.


Hawaiian Sunscreen Ban?

Hawaiian Sunscreen Ban?!  Can that happen???  Well, a Hawaiian state senator, proposed a bill that would ban the sale of chemical sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate across the islands. Prescriptions for the sunscreen would be allowed.  As nanny-state un-american as that may sound, it may turn out to be a good thing for the health of Hawaii’s coral reefs.


Sunscreen may be good for your skin, but some kinds are not necessarily the best for the environment

Last month, Will Espero, a Hawaiian state senator, proposed a bill that would ban the sale of chemical sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate across the islands. Prescriptions for the sunscreen would be allowed.

Why? A ton of sunscreen winds up in the global coral reef system every year — 14,000 tons, to be exact — and research indicates that oxybenzone can lead to coral bleaching. Some studies suggest one drop is even enough to damage the reefs.

To those who know the underwater world well, this isn’t new news. Many divers are warned to steer clear of chemical sunscreens — when we swim, after all, lotion can bleed off onto the reefs.

According to Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources, “researchers have found oxybenzone concentrations in some Hawaiian waters at more than 30 times the level considered safe for corals.”

The beaches of Maui, specifically, have already suffered the consequences, reports Scientific American.

Of course, the bill isn’t a suggestion to skip SPF on the sunny beaches of Hawaii. After all, there are two kinds of sunblock: Chemical blockers use ingredients like oxybenzone and octinoxate to absorb UV radiation from the sun, preventing it from causing damage. But physical (or mineral) sunscreens, with ingredients like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, block UVA and UVB rays from ever reaching your skin; and the National Park Service says these have not been found to harm the reefs.

Even better: Dermatologists agree that physical blocks are gentler on your skin. Good for you, good for the environment, and no painful sunburns in sight? We’d say that’s a win-win(-win).


Hawaii Six Scuba Dives –

Hawaii is one of the most stunning locations on the planet, both on land and under the water. Located 2,500 miles away from the nearest continent, Hawaii is the most remote archipelagos on the planet. As Hawaii is so remote, this means more encounters with species that you wouldn’t normally see in other places around the world. The best thing about diving in the waters surrounding Hawaii and its islands is that no dive is the same. In addition, visibility is pretty much excellent all year round. As well as great visibility, there are many species endemic to Hawaii, so this can provide one-off experiences to those who have never visited these waters before.

Where is Hawaii?

Top 6 Dive Sites In Hawaii

Manta Ray Night Dive, Kailua Kona

Manta Ray, Hawaii

Manta Ray, Hawaii

Listed as one of the top dive sites and experiences on nearly every top 10 dive sites list there is, the Manta Ray Night Dive is an experience like none-other. Large lights are built into the ocean floor, which attract unbelievable amounts of plankton to the area, which in turn provides a smorgasbord for the majestic Manta Rays of Kona, Hawaii. However, watch out because the Mantas like to come so close to you that you usually have to duck out the way, before they whack into you. This is nature in all its glory and if you’re traveling to Hawaii, then make sure you don’t miss out on this unbelievable experience.

Sea Tiger Wreck, West of Waikiki, Honolulu

Surgeonfish, Hawaii

Surgeonfish, Hawaii

The Sea Tiger is a former Chinese trading vessel that was confiscated in the early 1990’s for carrying 90 plus illegal immigrants into Hawaii. The Sea Tiger was then purchased by ‘Voyager Submarines’, cleaned up and then sunk as a part of a dive enrichment effort. The wreck stretches approximately 45 meters and boasts some of the most spectacular sights.

With the plethora of marine species that have made this wreck their home, its pretty hard not to see why this dive site made it to our top 6 list. Residents of this wreck includes; 6ft sea turtles, white tip reef sharks, moray eels, eagle rays and huge schools of fish, just to name a few.

Divers are able to penetrate the wreck with the correct dive certifications, entering through the cargo holds and bridge. Even though there is some miner degradation, the Sea Tiger is still in relatively good shape, making it an amazing experience for wreck diving enthusiasts.

Back Wall of Molokini Crater, Maui

Stunning Coral, Hawaii

Stunning Coral, Hawaii

This spectacular dive site often has a slight current, however it’s more or an intermediate to advanced dive site due to its unique ledges and wall drop off. This is a great spot to enjoy a leisurely drift dive. Due to its depths and lack of a bottom, the visibility reaches well over 30m, which is great for seeing wildlife including sharks, manta rays, dolphins and even whales during certain seasons.

The Forbidden Island, Niihau

Rainbow Fish, Hawaii

Rainbow Fish, Hawaii

This amazing dive location can only be accessed from late spring through to the beginning of autumn, as the winter brings swells that are too big to take on as a diver. This is a dive for experienced divers only. There are a number of dive spots at this location, from relaxed dives over 5m of pristine and beautiful corals to walls that drop below 60m. You’ll find spinner dolphins and even monk seals at this location as well as some rare species of fish and plenty of stunning coral.

The Cathedrals, Lanai

Turtle, Hawaii

Turtle, Hawaii

If you ask any diver who has been to Hawaii, what they would class as a great dive location, the Cathedrals is usually their answer. The depth of this location is around 18 to 20 meters, visibility is excellent and every level of diver can enjoy this dive. The two pinnacles that form the Cathedrals can be used as a great wall dive, as well as providing stunning arches and exciting caves to explore. The caverns roofs have heights of up to 6m and are covered in lava rock that lets in little bits of light from the surface, similarly to a stained glass window.

Corsair, Oahu

The Corsair airplane wreck is found roughly 3 miles away from the Hawaii Kai marina. It sits in 35m of stunning blue pacific waters and is in an upright position. Due to its location, the waters are quite rough, so this is for advanced divers only. The plane sank in 1948 and was originally on route from Pearl Harbor when the captain noticed the fuel gauge was going down quite quickly. He thought it was a faulty gauge and decided to continue on with his journey, when the plane suddenly began to splutter. The captain managed to land the plane safely in the water and it then sank with no damage. The captain was later rescued.

Divers are able to penetrate this wreck, however be aware that the yellow margin moray eels like to make this wreck their home, and are not keen on scuba diving invaders. Larger marine life also like to hang out around this airplane wreck with stingrays, sharks, tiger sharks, rays, manta rays and even during certain seasons, whales like to swim by. This is an excellent dive site that should not be missed, if you’re planning a trip to Hawaii.



There are so many amazing dive sites found around the islands of Hawaii, so if we have missed any off this list, please let us know about them in the comment box below!



Fiji shows off sharks – Hawaii should do the same

PACIFIC HARBOUR, Fiji — As the divers’ air bubbles sashayed to the surface 100 feet above, their eyes focused on the scene emerging in front of them.

A 10-foot female bull shark appeared, almost mirage-like, out of the blue beyond. Another entered, stage left. Then one on the right. And another.

Soon a dozen sharks were in view, some swimming within several feet of scuba spectators lined up to watch along a row of coral and rocky rubble.


Bull sharks are the main attraction at a dive site in Fiji’s first marine national park.

Courtesy: Alana Hong Eagle

A few certified dive masters orchestrated the show. Some hold dual roles as marine biologists and sheriffs of the sea, working to enforce the laws of Fiji’s first marine national park while educating a steady stream of tourists on the importance of shark conservation.

One swam over to a submerged trash can that the dive operator had placed for the show. He pulled out a tuna head and with a flip of his wrist let it float away, its lifeless eyes unblinking.

A 9-foot bull shark cut through a school of smaller fish, devouring it in a couple of bites. A few of the dozen divers who paid to see this world-renowned spectacle emitted muffled squeals of joy through their breathing regulators.

As Ben Saqata of Beqa Adventure Divers explained on the boat ride out to the lagoon for the dive, these apex predators are key to maintaining balanced ecosystems. They keep species down the food chain in check so those animals in turn do not dominate the food sources below them, and so on.

He said he’s seen this no-take zone become a spawning ground for other fish, and there’s been a spillover effect, pleasing local fishermen who ply the waters outside its boundaries.

Sharks are revered by many Fijians but face threats from fishermen who target certain species for their meat or fins. Protecting them has been the reserve’s primary mission, but the benefit has extended far beyond by generating millions of tourism dollars for the local economy.


Ben Saqata of Beqa Adventure Divers is a marine biologist and deputized by the Fijian government to enforce the laws restricting fishing inside the Shark Reef Marine Reserve.

Courtesy: Alana Hong Eagle

Hawaii’s Conservation Efforts

Hawaii officials have been looking to places like Fiji for marine management ideas, given their similarities as remote island chains with economies driven largely by visitors who travel from afar to experience the natural resources.

Gov. David Ige announced in September his commitment for the state to “effectively manage” 30 percent of its nearshore fisheries by 2030. It’s unclear what that will entail, but it has at least set a course.

The plan does not have specific shark provisions and the governor, through his spokeswoman, declined to comment for this report.

Ige has expressed concern about Hawaii’s marine ecosystems in a broader sense at recent environmental conferences, including the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s World Conservation Congress in September, where he raised the issue of climate change and its disproportionate effects on island communities.


Gov. David Ige during a press conference at the IUCN meeting in Honolulu in September.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

A new marine reserve to protect nearshore waters may not be in the state’s future. But officials are looking at the process Fiji went through to establish its park

The idea of incorporating local knowledge, the best available science and traditional practices, as Fiji, the Republic of Palau and other nations have done, is being used to manage smaller areas around Hawaii, said state Department of Land and Natural Resources Director Suzanne Case.

The north shore of Kauai and west side of the Big Island now have so-called community-based subsistence fishing areas. Others are in the works for Maui and Oahu. Each has its own management measures specific to the area, developed by those communities in conjunction with the state.

DLNR spokesman Dan Dennison said the department doesn’t have any internal expertise on sharks and deferred to University of Hawaii scientist Carl Meyer, who did not respond to requests for comment. The state Division of Aquatic Resources also did not respond to a request for comment.


Blacktip reef sharks are one of several species regularly encountered in the Shark Reef Marine Reserve,

Courtesy: Alana Hong Eagle

“I’m sure that Hawaii can learn from anyplace in the world that’s trying new things,” said William Aila, a fisherman, diver and former head of DLNR who now serves as deputy director of the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

“If you take a look at the community-based fisheries management initiatives that are going on around the state, you have sort of this lab of fisheries management that’s coming from the ground up,” he said.

“I know for a fact that those folks are researching everything that’s happened in the past in Hawaii, everything that’s happened in other parts of the world, and that’s being included in their individual assessments of what they’d like to see happen,” Aila said.

‘Conservation Project Running A Dive Shop’

Beqa Adventure Divers, based on the south shore of Fiji’s main island, has been taking customers out to dive the reefs of Viti Levu since 2004 when the Shark Reef Marine Reserve was established.

The reserve, which became a national park in 2014, offers exhilarating sights of several shark species amid plentiful corals and a wide range of fish of all sizes and colors.

The company’s director, Mike Neumann, said its offering a lot more than good diving.

“We’re a conservation project running a dive shop,” he said. “It’s not the other way around.”


A gray shark cruises by during a December dive in the Shark Reef Marine Reserve in Fiji.

Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

He acknowledges that not everyone supports feeding the sharks. Critics say it changes their natural behavior and can have other consequences, but Neumann pointed at studies showing little to no effect on the shark populations in the reserve. He noted there have been no shark bite incidents during any of the tours.

One study found the contents of their stomachs was less than 1 percent tuna, which is what the dive shop feeds them. Another found less diversity in the sharks going to the site; the bulls were outcompeting the tigers and other species.

“People who feed sharks are called fishermen — not a few dive operators,” Neumann said.

The bigger point, he said, has nothing to do with feeding or not feeding sharks, but instead the reserve’s value as “a proof of the concept that something like this can be done in conservation.”


Ben Saqata, center, a marine biologist with Beqa Adventure Divers, says there’s been a spillover effect from the reserve that helps boost fish populations beyond its boundaries.

Courtesy: Alana Hong Eagle

Beqa Adventure Divers partnered with Fiji’s government and neighboring villages to establish the reserve and now runs the park’s day-to-day operations.

Its employees include marine biologists who conduct shark research that’s been cited in international studies. All the workers are deputized fish wardens who have police powers to enforce laws banning fishing. That makes up for the government’s lack of resources for enforcement — a major issue in any marine protected area, including the massive Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. 

Customers pay a marine park fee to dive in the reserve. The money goes to the villages in exchange for giving up their right to fish there.

Neumann said their waters have proven more valuable as a protected reserve than a fishing ground. A 2011 study determined shark diving contributed $42.2 million to Fiji’s economy the previous year.


Viti Levu, the main island of Fiji, is receiving a steady stream of international visitors, many of whom are coming to dive with sharks.

Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

“You can’t protect jaguars if you don’t protect the jungle,” Neumann said.

Shark conservation efforts have increased in recent years in Hawaii but there’s debate in the scientific community over whether Hawaii’s nearshore sharks need further protection.

Unlike in Fiji and other parts of the Pacific, sharks are not targeted in Hawaii for food and the state passed a ban on the trade of shark fins in 2010.

The real threat to sharks in Hawaii comes from their food sources being depleted, be it from commercial and recreational fishermen or habitat loss due to polluted runoff.

Counting The Sharks

Scientist Marc Nadon of the Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research at the University of Hawaii and his colleagues wrote a paper in 2012 estimating that the number of Pacific reef sharks had plummeted 90 percent in Hawaii.

The study found reef shark populations to be below 10 percent of the level they should be around populated islands, but could not determine the reasons for this depletion. That paper speculated that commercial and recreational fishing and an overall reduction in the amount of fish the sharks eat could explain why.

A follow-up to that study is expected within a few months, which could make its findings more defensible. The original study was criticized by some people because it relied on the observations of divers towed behind boats at a maximum 30 meters’ depth. The follow-up study uses cameras that extend down to 100 meters or more.

“We’re not saying there are no more reef sharks in the Main Hawaiian Islands, they’re still there. We’re talking about abundance,” Nadon said.

“Most people just snorkel around the main eight Hawaiian Islands and that’s their experience of what this is,” he said. “But if you go to remote areas of the Pacific, you almost don’t need the data. You just see it.”

Designating certain waters as protected marine areas would not be enough to stop the decline in reef shark stocks, Nadon said.

“The recent implementation of marine national monuments at most isolated U.S. Pacific islands may substantially increase the probability of persistence of reef shark populations, but effective enforcement and additional fishing regulations elsewhere would also be necessary to slow the decline of these species,” he said.


A 2011 study determined shark diving alone contributed $42.2 million to Fiji’s economy.

Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

Scientist Kim Holland of the University of Hawaii’s Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology was among those skeptical of the findings that showed reef shark populations at such low levels in Hawaii.

Just because people do not encounter sharks as frequently in Hawaii as they do in places like Fiji does not mean they are not around, he said, noting poorer water visibility as one reason.

“There’s a lot of hidden shark biomass in Hawaiian waters,” Holland said.

He was careful to make the distinction between nearshore sharks, like blacktip reef sharks, and open-ocean sharks, like tiger sharks. The latter category faces significant threats, he said, because they are targeted for their fins and killed as bycatch.

If there has been a depletion in nearshore sharks, Holland said he would agree with Nadon it’s likely due to insufficient food, which would mean that addressing fishing could help.

“One of the real pressures on our reefs is gill nets are still allowed to be used in Hawaiian waters and not in the traditional sense — Polynesians only had so much capacity,” Holland said.

Restricting gill nets would help control fishing pressure on the reefs, he said, which would in turn help maintain healthy shark populations.

“It’s a hard nut to crack though because of the intersection between modern fisheries biology and advocating for traditional harvesting rights,” Holland said. “You get into that whole tension between modern fisheries management and traditional gathering rights.”


Sharks are plentiful in Fiji’s Shark Reef Marine Reserve.

Courtesy: Alana Hong Eagle

That’s a familiar battle in Fiji. Neumann, the shark dive director, said the problem is that the villages there have been fishing the same waters for generations but the fish population did not keep up with the human population.

“You can go anywhere down the coast and there is nothing there,” he said. “But how do you tell subsistence fishermen that they have to manage their resource?”

To Aila, the answer could be in the Hawaiian concept of reciprocity.

“It’s not only about the ‘right’ to fish,” he said. “It’s about, I have a responsibility to fish and in how I conduct myself.”

In order to continue fishing, Aila said, “we have to make sure we give back in terms of management or on a personal level a relationship — cleaning up marine debris or fishing lines.”

Neumann, who has spent time in Hawaii and is close with many in the science and conservation communities here, said he isn’t holding his breath for Hawaii to take strong actions to protect its waters even though the state’s economy and the public’s health depends on it.

“Unless the government gets some balls, it’s not going to happen,” he said. “The question for Hawaii is what kind of ocean do you want to show your tourists?”


You Can Swim With Sharks Here

When it comes to bucket-list adventures, swimming with sharks is near the top for a lot of adrenaline junkies. Many of the adventures on the list require scuba diving, but at some locations, even non-divers with a desire to get up close and personal with the top of the food chain can jump in and face their fears.

Bahamas, Bahamas, and more in the Bahamas!

I don’t want to scare the non-shark lovers away from the beauty of the Bahamas, but there are sharks out there. From least scary to the most, here’s where to get your Bahamian shark fix.

Compass Cay Marina is home to a large number of well-fed, friendly nurse sharks. In case you don’t know it, nurse sharks are more like a giant catfish than a great white. You can walk right into the shallow water near the fish cleaning station and pet these gentle guys.

Stuart Cove’s in Nassau has been doing shark dives safely for decades. Caribbean reef sharks feed on fish-on-a-stick as divers kneel in the sand in awe. Reef sharks are some of the least aggressive species of shark. (Forget about what you saw on Shark Week.)

As your fear subsides and you crave more sharks and more excitement, check out the folks at Jim Abernethy’s Scuba Adventures in Fort Lauderdale. They operate live-aboard dive boats with regularly scheduled shark trips in the Bahamas. Expect to see tigers and hammerheads, as well as the Caribbean reef sharks.


There are several shark species in the Pacific waters surrounding the Hawaiian Islands. Sightings of tigers, hammerheads, blues, and even great whites are not all that uncommon. And while divers can expect to see these guys almost anywhere while diving in Hawaii, the Oahu’s North Shore is the place to be for cage diving. Hawaii Shark Encounters takes shark education seriously and strives to educate customers about the need for shark conservation while providing them with a thrilling swim with sharks inside the safety of a cage. No diving skills are required — just bring your courage.


Scuba diving in Fiji is a definite bucket list adventure for many divers. And the fish many hope to see most is shark. Beqa Adventure Divers can make that happen for you. Sharks are protected in the Shark Reef Marine Reserve, so no worries about questionable practices. This is an uncaged dive, but per the company’s website, it is a carefully managed feed, where participants observe, but do not interact with the sharks.

Guadalupe Island, Mexico

Home to a large population of great whites, the waters off the Mexico’s Baja coast, attract divers willing to brave cold Pacific waters for some time in a cage watching the top fish of the ocean. Nautilus Live Aboards operates six-day adventures from July to November utilizing submersible cages that descend to thirty feet for a better opportunity to observe the sharks. You meet the expedition in San Diego, motor to Ensenada, cruise to Guadalupe, then spend three full days in the cages watching the predators. Non-divers are allowed, as air is supplied by hoses attached to the boat, but a minimum of a Discover Scuba course is recommended.



Hawaii Really Quick Island Guide

Some of the most reliable pleasures of Hawaii travel include exploring its national parks, multiethnic cuisine and indigenous culture. A luxurious spa treatment rarely goes amiss, though some may prefer the riskier adventure of scuba with sharks. Here’s an island-by-island look at what’s new in those various vacation modes:

– Jeanne Cooper


Online reservations are now required to view sunrise from the summit district of Haleakala National Park. The cost is $1.50 per vehicle, payable via up to 60 days in advance; the receipt and photo ID must be presented to enter the area between 3 and 7 a.m. The fee is in addition to park admission, which costs $20 per car and is valid for three days. Note: The park holds 30 spaces in reserve until 24 hours before the next sunrise, so die-hards can always try to rebook quickly if skies are cloudy.

Meanwhile, in the park’s Kipahulu district, the tiered pools of Oheo Gulch (nicknamed the “Seven Sacred Pools”) have been closed indefinitely following a rock slide Jan. 3 that prompted concerns of further slides, especially during the typically rainy winter months. Check the park website for updates.


Sea Life Park’s new Shark Tank Experience allows novice and experienced divers to swim with the sharks — blacktip and whitetip reef, sandbar and hammerhead varieties — in a 300,000-gallon aquarium. The daily adventure takes place at 2:30 p.m.; admission to the park is included in the $199 fee (

If you’d rather eat than think about the possibility of being eaten, new options appear as regularly as surf in Waikiki. Royal Hawaiian Hotel is marking its 90th anniversary by opening the first stand-alone bakery among island hotels. Open 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, the Royal Hawaiian Bakery sells classic and tropical-themed pastries, such as Koloa pineapple coffee cake and haupia cream brioche.

One hotel down, at the Outrigger Waikiki, the Hula Grill Waikiki now serves brunch seven days a week, from 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; locally sourced poke tacos, strawberry mochi waffles, local eggs and ahi katsu sandwiches reflect island style ( The new Waikiki Yokocho in Waikiki Shopping Plaza takes its inspiration from Japan’s food-filled alleyways (yokocho), offering 14 intimate restaurants and bars. The latest to open is 28-seat Tsujita Ramen, known for its Ajitama Tsukemen ($13), a slow-cooked broth with soft-boiled egg accompanied by thick noodles and other toppings.,

Honolulu’s Kakaako neighborhood has attracted two spin-offs of popular restaurants. Piggy Smalls, a Ward Village offshoot of Chinatown’s the Pig and the Lady, offers Vietnamese specialties such as “pho-strami” banh mi sandwiches and vegan pho (


Visitors to Poipu Beach no longer have to wonder what’s the story with the four towering tikis overlooking 13 acres that for years were covered with brush and weeds. A new viewing platform and walkway sport five interpretive signs sharing detailed stories of Ke Kahua O Kaneioluma (“the Kaneioluma complex”), first mapped in 1959 and including a centuries-old heiau (temple), rock walls, home sites, games arena and fishpond.

Big Island

Visitors to the Kohala Coast looking for other evening entertainment will soon be able to see first-run movies in a new cinema with leather seats, cocktails, wood-fired pizza and more. Currently under construction, the three-screen Waikoloa Luxury Cinemas plans to open this spring in Queens’ MarketPlace.

There’s a new way to view Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park ( as well as the historic and cultural sites of Kailua-Kona and Keauhou. Using an all new Hydra-Terra amphibious tour bus, Big Island Duck Tours ( takes 40 passengers on a tour/pub quiz that cruises down 7½ miles of Alii Drive, then heads to Honokohau Harbor for an actual cruise past ancient fishponds and a former Hawaiian village. Tours start at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday-Saturday; the cost is $49 adults, $35 ages 2 to 18.


While the reopening of the Four Seasons Lodge at Koele has been pushed back till next year, the other resort on Larry Ellison’s island continues to increase its luxury quotient. At the Four Seasons Resort Lanai, the eight treatment rooms at the new Hawanawana Spa include four couples’ suites with side-by-side treatment beds, rain showers, and a cozy living and dining area.

Given that most guests from the mainland spend hours waiting for connecting flights in Honolulu to Lanai, the resort has opened its own airport lounge, on the second floor of Honolulu’s Overseas Terminal. Guests can check into their room; book dinner, a spa treatment or other activity; and enjoy free Wi-Fi, movies, food and drink, among other amenities.


Ferry service from Maui ended in late October, increasing pressure on the limited nonstop flights to the island. Hawaiian Airlines’ Ohana ( offers daily service on 48-passenger turboprops from Honolulu, Maui’s Kahului airport and Lanai, while Mokulele Airlines ( and Makani Kai Air ( offer daily service from Honolulu on nine-passenger turboprops.

Book flights and lodging early for popular events such as the Molokai Ka Hula Piko Festival, June 1-3,, or the Molokai 2 Oahu Paddleboard World Championship, July 30,


Obama Snorkeling with Sea Turtles off Hawaii

ABC’s World News Tonight closed out the show Monday evening with a spotlight on President Barack Obama snorkeling off the coast of Hawaii for the National Geographic Channel. Anchor David Muir could barely contain his joy as he led into his report. “Finally tonight here, President Obama taking a dive in a place he helped protect,” he stated, while sounding elated.

“They’re images unlike anything we have seen before,” hyped Muir, “A sitting president snorkeling in open waters.” The location the president was swimming in was Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. The president expanded the size of the protected monument area through an executive order back in August of 2016.

According to LiveScience, the president expanded the area “after Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), along with conservationists and marine scientists, urged the president to protect the region’s waters and marine life.” “The monument is now 582,578 square miles … an area more than twice the size of Texas,” they added.

Muir was completely enamored with Obama’s remembrance of his mother, “It’s a place he grew up with, a place he told the magazine that, along with his mother, helped shape his love of nature.” “She’s the kind of person who would wake me up to see a full moon if it was particularly spectacular. Yeah, so I give her a lot of credit,” Obama told NatGeo.

“11 days before the next president, the current one and a question he’s often asked,” Muir coyly fawned:

People always ask, “Why do I stay calm in the midst of crazy stuff going on?” Well, I always tell people, I think part of it’s being born in Hawaii and knowing what it’s like to jump into the ocean and understanding what it means when you see a sea turtle in the face of a wave.

The president’s interview was a part of a National Geographic Channel documentary titled “Sea of Hope.” The program also highlights the discovery of a new fish species, which had been named after the president. Tosanoides Obama is its scientific name, but it’s also known as the “hope fish.”

While ABC and Muir were swooning for Obama snorkeling in the calm waters off the coast of Hawaii, they were turning a blind-eye to the turbulent waters of the Strait of Hormuz where the USS Mahan was harassed by Iranian boats and was forced to fire warning shots.


The President of the United States, Barack Obama arriving on Midway Atoll Midway on September 1, 2016 to commemorate his use of the Antiquities Act to expand the boundaries of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.
The President gave interviews to National Geographic Magazine writer Craig Welch and to Dr. Sylvia Earle, National Geographic Explorer in Residence.



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