Sign Up for Our Monthly Hawaii Newsletter
When the Waikiki Aquarium debuted in 1904, the oceanfront attraction was operated by Honolulu Rapid Transit and Land Company to lure passengers into taking the Waikiki Trolley to the end of the line.
Considered state-of-the-art at the time, the splashy facility opened with 35 tanks and 400 marine organisms. Today, aquatic fans can observe more than 500 marine species displayed in four galleries, with the newest exhibit showcasing the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
Open since August 2011, the 4,400-gallon exhibit displays marine marvels from the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, which is home to more than 7,000 marine species. Designated as a national monument in 2006 and named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010, the remote Pacific region is one of only 26 mixed (cultural and natural) UNESCO World Heritage sites in the world.
The largest single area dedicated to conservation in the U.S., this fragile collection of atolls, shoals, reefs and small islands stretches from 150 miles northwest of Kauai across 1,200 miles of the Pacific Ocean. It’s off-limits to visitors aside from a handful of researchers and scientists who make their way there each year. Here, clients can view a living reef ecosystem representative of that which is found in the world’s most isolated islands.
I have explored the Waikiki Aquarium a number of times but, on a recent visit, I noticed a renewed interest in the aquarium. As tourists worked their way through the facility, it was interesting to watch who focused on what. The $350,000 gallery drew interest across the board, with adults fixating on the interactive video touch screen displays and kids gawking at the magnificent collection of colorful marine life.
According to Dr. Andrew Rossiter, the director of the Waikiki Aquarium, the Northwestern Hawaiian Island exhibit goes beyond the facility’s mission to inspire and promote the understanding, appreciation and conservation of Pacific marine life. It also allows visitors to experience some of the treasures that thrive at the Marine National Monument.
“Access to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands is carefully regulated,” said Dr. Rossiter. “One of our goals was to bring the area to our aquarium visitors since they can’t actually visit there. A large percent of what’s found there exists nowhere else. We wanted to share a world that they can’t experience otherwise.”
Dr. Rossiter stressed that what visitors would see in this exhibit is different from what they might come across while snorkeling in Hawaii’s waters.
“Roughly 35 to 40 percent of the fish you find around the main islands are found only here,” he said. “In the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, the percentage is much higher — not only for the types of fish, but also for the numbers of species and densities. It’s a very special place.”
Among the unique organisms I viewed while touring the new exhibit were corals, masked angelfish, bandit angelfish and Japanese pygmy angelfish. I was amazed to learn that the colorful Japanese angelfish have quite a dynamic life. First recorded at Kure Atoll in 1981 and still not found in the main Hawaiian Islands, these stunning orange, purple and yellow beauties live in small harems with a dominant male. Once this leader is removed from the group, the ranking female changes sex to become a male.
Touch screens provided me with additional scoop on the significance of these distant islands, their ecology and biodiversity, and the importance of preserving this almost pristine marine ecosystem for future generations. Aside from its aquatic awe, the critical take-away is how this ecosystem is affected by ocean debris and other human impact originating thousands of miles away.
With its new Northwestern Hawaiian Islands gallery, the Waikiki Aquarium has become an even finer place to enjoy beautiful marine life. Clients who visit will learn valuable insights into how each person plays a role in helping to protect it for the future.
Admission is $9 per adult; $4 for children ages 13-17; $2 for children ages 5-12.