First Snorkel at Ahihi Cove
impressionist painting of fish in Ahihi Cove
Image © Alison Whalen
Ahihi Cove, part of the Ahihi-Kina'u Natural Reserve, is often touted in guidebooks as one of Maui's best snorkel destinations. Sadly, the area is now suffering the effects of overuse by the hundreds of visitors who arrive daily to see the fish. Most of the tourists haven't a clue how to treat the cove's fragile ecosystem. The coral has been trampled and crushed by novice snorkelers who stand on its delicate branches in the shallow water and kick their fins against it in the deeper areas. Almost everyone who enters the water is coated with sunscreen that leaves a residue behind. There's also a problem with illegal aquarium harvesting, which has greatly depleted the cove's marine population.

We snorkeled for the first time here in 2000, and the fish were so abundant we could barely squeeze between them. The soft pastel colors of the corals glinted in the sun, and everything was lush and thriving. We were truly in another world. It was here that I saw my first puffer fish, and also learned to listen underwater for the echoey 'clink-clink' that told me a parrot fish was nearby, eating from the coral.

During the ensuing years, we saw a noticeable decline in the overall health of the area. We checked it out again in the spring of 2008, and what we found was heartbreaking. The corals, once so brilliant, had faded to a monochromatic grey, and there were hardly any fish to speak of. The cove seemed lifeless. In August of 2008, the State of Hawaii closed access to the majority of the reserve, including Fishbowl and Aquarium, two other popular snorkeling areas that have suffered the same fate. The reserve will remain closed through July of 2010 to let the area rest and hopefully rejuvenate.

acrylic on paper
actual image size - 6 3/4" X 8"

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