Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Hanauma Bay - Reef "Rules"

2nd in a series.

Hanauma Bay became an underwater park in 1967.

The visits about which I was reminiscing yesterday happened primarily through the 70's and early 80's. This was well after the first time that the bay had begun showing clear signs of overuse (which was the motivation for turning it into a park), and even longer past the destruction that had happened in the 50's, when a cable was laid there (more on both of those in a future post - probably the next one). The bay had largely recovered, and had become the sanctuary I remember visiting.

The legal-type rules of the park at that time were very relaxed. No fishing, probably no removal of coral or reef animals, no littering - the usual common-sense rules involved in keeping a beautiful place beautiful. In fact, I'm sure there were more rules - but they were so common-sense (and/or so outside of the scope of concern of an average 10-year old - like there may've been rules about alcohol, but that wasn't something I'd even think about then, and closing time, which I wouldn't have thought about 'cause it was my folks who said "Time to go home"!) that I actually don't remember those.

There was another set of rules besides the ones that would get you fined or kicked out of the park, though. Those ones, I remember. There weren't a lot of them; they were very clear and very easy to remember.

I don't remember learning them any more than I remember learning to look both ways before crossing the street - and like that one, following these was purely in the interest of keeping yourself safe. I'm sure my parents drummed them into me & my sister's heads when I was still making sandcastles & preferred the little inlets on the trail to the Toilet Bowl to the rough & tumble of the big one.

In fact the bit I mentioned in the last post about knowing to stay away from the inlet to the Toilet Bowl? That's a good example.

Hanauma Bay is beautiful, but there were a few hazards to be aware of, and the "rules" I'm talking about were in response to those. You could almost say the bay, the ocean, and the residents of the reef were the enforcers of those rules. You paid attention to them because the fine for disregarding them was never a matter of money.

Here are a couple of the simple rules that pertained to the reef and it's residents:

Don't walk on the reef. This is one of the ones that really gets emphasized now; coral is actually a colony of tiny animals & people walking on them is tough on them. Now, when I was little, I don't remember this rule having quite such an environmentally conscious spin to it, but I followed it nevertheless. First off, the reef has a very uneven surface, it's tough to walk on. There's the risk of twisting and ankle or worse in case of a misstep; it's also easy to get knocked off-balance by waves. A fall would result in coral cuts, which, if I remember correctly, don't heal too well. Besides the coral, there were plenty of sea urchins, or "wana", who made their homes on the reef - that's a picture of one on the right, here. They like to snuggle themselves down in nice secure little nooks & crannies. As you might imagine, stepping on one of these guys would wreck your day - the spines break off short in your skin & stay there, and just to make things even better, some of 'em (like the one shown here, in fact) have venomous spines. Not likely to kill you, but they hurt even worse than the normal ones. We used to include old worn-out tennis shoes in our beach bag to wear in the water - these came in handy in case you absolutely HAD to walk on the reef, but on the whole it was really easier & safer to just swim.

Don't stick your hands (or anything else) in holes in the reef. This might sound pretty random, but it's not. This is a moray eel. See the teeth? Moray eels live in holes in the reef & that's why you don't stick your hands in holes in the reef. Makes sense, yeah? Morays look terribly fierce, but they are actually not one bit aggressive towards people - some of them can even be rather tame, if they become accustomed to divers - the teeth are for catching dinner, and dinner to a moray is a fish, not a person. However, if you go sticking your hand into a hole in which a moray has taken up residence, he or she is absolutely, positively going to bite you really hard with those really sharp teeth and really strong jaws, and it is absolutely, positively going to hurt (pretty good chance of stitches, in fact). It's pure self-defense, though, can't blame the eel at all.

Neither of these is likely to kill you, of course - but you could end your nice relaxing day at the beach at the emergency room getting the results of your carelessness tended to.

The most important rule, though, was one I remember as "Never turn your back on the sea".

Ignoring this one could kill you, and I have never forgotten that.

(Next installment - Ocean Rules)

Images from courtesy of Keoki & Yuko Stender (thanks again!)

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