Shark Encounters of the Best Kind

Reef and Ray Adventure makes a splash at J.W. Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa

By: Dawna Robertson

Sharing the awe of the ocean in a safe hands-on environment, the Reef and Ray Adventure offers a close up look at Hawaii’s colorful marine life. Located within Ko Olina Resort at the J.W. Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa, this marine encounter showcases everything from stingrays to sharks.

According to Director Jo Ann Marks, the program is all about fun. “Even though we’re educating people, we do it in a fun way,” Marks explained.

The four-segment adventure is geared to teach via interactive experiences.

“Participants really enjoy themselves. We’ve never disappointed anyone wanting to learn more about the ocean,” Marks said.

Marks noted visitors explore in one hour what would take months to possibly do on their own.

“This is truly one of the most valuable and affordable ways to discover Hawaii’s unique marine life,” Marks said. “People can feed sharks and rays, go into a touch pool, see tropical fish and touch marine life in a safe setting.”

The Reef and Ray Adventure is conducted at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. each Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Visitors tour four separate ponds, with Marks describing everything along the way.

“I tell people where the fish come from, how long we keep them and where we release them,” she stated.

The most popular species on the tour is the Spotted Eagle Ray.

“They’re soft and they suck gently on your hands,” Marks explained. “We’ve named them all and they each have personalities of their own. This seems to be the favorite part of the tour.”

Reef Shark Feeding: Guests feed the reef shark species on display as a marine life specialist presents an interpretive discussion on shark identification and life history. All from Hawaii’s waters, sharks that may be encountered include Galapagos sharks, Black-Tip reef sharks, Sandbar sharks, White-Tip reef sharks, Gray reef sharks and Iridescent Black-Tip sharks.

Reef Safari: Participants get up close and personal through an in-water interactive touch session with such reef creatures as Medusa sea cucumbers, Hawaiian sea stars, shiny tiger cowry shells, prickly black and purple sea urchins, red banded coral shrimps, strawberry crabs, sand-dwelling sea shells, giant helmet shells, hermit crabs, sea hares and an octopus. During the safari, they’ll identify and touch the marine life with an interpreter, while exploring a shallow sand-filled lagoon. Wading shoes are provided by the resort.

Hawaii Reef Fish Feeding: Guests are allowed to feed and identify Hawaii’s reef fish residing in the ponds.

Hawaiian Ray Experience: An in-water interactive touch session allows participants to encounter friendly adult and young Hawaiian Rays and graceful Spotted Eagle Rays.

For guests of the J.W. Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa, the one-hour Reef and Ray Adventure is $22.95 for adults and $15.95 for children 10-12 years old. For visitors, rates are $27.95 and $19.95 respectively. Up to 10 people are allowed per session.

Geared to guests 4-10 years old, the resort offers a one-hour Keiki Program at 1 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. This kid-friendly option includes keiki (children) activities and education along with Reef Shark Feeding, Hawaii Reef Fish Feeding and Reef Safari. The Hawaiian Ray Experience is not included in this program.

For resort guests, rates are $15.95. Visitors rates are $19.95. Each child must be accompanied by a parent.