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Reef Awareness

Article by Chatten Hayes

Maui visitors plunging into the island's sparkling waters are often unaware of the delicate reef life under the surface. However, there's no shortage of ways for them to learn about conservation, and at least one program is right on a beach.

The Pacific Whale Foundation sponsors the Onsite Coral Reef Naturalist Program at Ulua Beach in Wailea, 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., five days a week. It's making ocean experiences more fun for visitors, and protecting Maui's environment at the same time.

"The majority of the people come down, and they see our sign and they'll stop and talk to us," says Bob Vough, Ulua's naturalist. Vough talks about good reef protection habits, like staying at least 10 feet away from corals, and not feeding fish or touching turtles.

Reef awareness is particularly important to the health of corals, living animals that are easy to step on and can be mistaken for rocks. But the gentlest touch can wipe away coral's protective mucus, leaving it vulnerable to disease and predation.

Vough has fish identification books, too, and often can come up with names or species from pretty sketchy descriptions. "We can explain what they just saw. It's highly educational," Vough says.

The naturalist program is free, and it's not a sales pitch for anything, although the foundation offers commercial activities. Funding comes from grants from the Hawai'i Tourism Authority and County of Maui Office of Economic Development, matched by Pacific Whale Foundation funds.

The program takes advantage of every opportunity to educate visitors, such as offering samples of "aquarium safe" petroleum-free sunscreen, and occasionally supplying smokers with empty film canisters (remember those?) for cigarette butts.

"It gets people thinking about choices they can make that can impact the reef," says Ann Rillero, communications director for Pacific Whale Foundation. "Once people understand, they really embrace it."

  find more by Chatten Hayes