If you are looking for another activity to add to your bucket list of “can’t-miss” things to do when you are on the island of Maui, a quick visit to the Maui Ocean Center might be just what you never knew you always wanted.
Whether you are a resident of Maui or a guest to the island, this family-friendly marine ecological park truly has something to offer visitors of all ages. And, because love, respect, and appreciation for natural wonders transcend borders and languages, the Maui Ocean Center can be an enchanting and unforgettable experience for travelers from around the world.
In 1998, the Maui Ocean Center opened as a $20 million state-of-the-art-facility dedicated to a singular purpose– to broaden the knowledge, respect, and appreciation for the myriad forms of marine life native to Hawaii. For the past 15 years and counting, the facility aptly known as “Hawaii’s Aquarium” has done just that, educating and delighting guests 365 days a year.
A Panoramic World of Diversity
The Maui Ocean Center has spent years researching the width, breadth, and depth of the and incredible underwater ecosystem of the Hawaiian Islands, gaining invaluable insight into the life cycles of the marine fish, fowl, and animals that call Paradise home.
Guests can marvel at the nation’s largest live coral display, showcasing the colorful, rock-hard, and ever-evolving living habitat for such sea creatures as eels, invertebrates, and many species of fish. Because it provides both shelter and food to all the creatures that live within its ecosystem, some marine scientists have called coral the most important animal in the underwater world.
The center exhibits more than two dozen varieties of invertebrates and crustaceans, including different species of shrimp, mollusks, see vegetation, octopi, starfish, and lobster.
One of the most interesting examples of a local invertebrate sea creature and its place in Hawaiian life and culture can be demonstrated by the Tiger Cowry, also known by its Hawaiian name, leho-kiko. Cowry shells have been harvested and treasured throughout human history by numerous cultures, and have many uses as jewelry, currency, religious items, and even representations of fertility.
The Hawaiian Tiger Cowry is among the largest and most distinctive examples, sometimes growing up to 6 inches, with spotted black, orange, and white shells as individual and unique as snowflakes.
As rare and beautiful as the Tiger Cowry is, its position in Hawaiian culture and history is just as fascinating and important. The flesh on the interior was used as a food source, but it was the shells that had the greater importance. The shells were carefully selected to be used as lures in octopus fishing, and were traditionally smoked by hand over a fire to change their color so they could be used at different times of day. Treasured lures would become family heirlooms, and passed down between multiple generations of octopus fisherman.
As is only befitting a world-class aquarium, the Maui Ocean Center features dozens of species of fish found in the Hawaiian Islands, showcasing them in a variety of exhibit formats. Different varieties of fish, both large and small, can be found here, including rays, eels, seahorses, puffer fish, and of course, sharks. Visitors can be confident in the fact that if a type of fish can be found in Hawaiian waters, it can also be found here.
Part of this confidence can be based in the fact that the Maui Ocean Center has a unique “Open Ocean” exhibit, containing three quarters of a million gallons of water, which provides the various species of fish with as natural habitat as possible.
For the more adventurous, the Open Ocean exhibit can provide an unforgettable Shark Dive experience where visitors can actually interact underwater with thousands of fish, rays, and nearly two dozen different types of shark. Participants must be scuba certified and over the age of 15, but shark sightings are guaranteed.
Some first-time guests may be disappointed to learn that there are no whales present, or no dolphin or killer whale shows, as can be seen at other aquariums throughout the world. In keeping with the conservationist mission of the Maui Ocean Center, it is against Maui County law to keep any mammalian marine life captive. However, if visitors to Hawaii want to view such animals in their native habitat, there are many sightseeing tours that will accommodate them.
Visitors stopping by the Harbor Plaza exhibit can get an up close can get an up close first-hand look at the famous Hawaiian green sea turtles, named honu in the local language. There are seven species of sea turtles identified in the world, and five of them are native to Hawaii.
The Maui Ocean Center and its efforts to broaden conservation awareness are especially crucial to the continued survival of sea turtles. The iconic green sea turtle are identified as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act of 1970, and hawksbill turtles, also called ‘ea, have populations that are even more precarious, listed as “critically endangered”. Much more funding and continued hard work will be necessary on behalf of sea turtles before their populations return to non-critical levels.
It is this ongoing commitment to conservation, education, and appreciation that makes the Maui Ocean Center such a worthwhile destination. With over 60 exhibits and hundreds of different kinds of sea creatures, the facility is an admirable ecological park. However, with a unique focus on how those different species have become part of everyday and historical Hawaiian culture, the Maui Ocean Center becomes much more. It is small wonder that according to a Zagat travel guide, it is “Hawaii’s Top-Rated Family Attraction”.