HONOLULU (KHON/CNN) – While tourists and residents may be unhappy about Hawaii’s stay-at-home order during the coronavirus pandemic, that’s not true for the marine life.
The absence of scuba divers and snorkelers is bringing new life to the coral reefs around Oahu.
Hundreds if not thousands of people visit areas like Hanauma Bay and Shark’s Cove on a daily basis.
In the few weeks that these areas have been closed, researchers say they’ve already seen big improvements in the ecosystem.
“We’re getting a lot of different, different anecdotal reports of you know, schooling fish and much more present fish in areas like Molokini Crater. Also reports of spinner dolphins in bays in West Hawaii that are just much more prevalent, just seeing different behaviors and activity we haven’t seen in years,” said Brian Neilson.
He says fewer biologists are out studying impacts due to the stay-at-home order, so they aren’t able to test things like the water quality.
“Our best case scenario is if we are able to get biologists out in the field before the flood gates open again for tourism to come back. So we have a couple at least a couple of weeks to get out there and document these observations,” he added.
Over at Hanauma Bay, they’re seeing more fish closer to the shoreline.
“Most of the fish are coming closer than we would normally would see and the water clarity looks better,” said Kuulei Rogers.
Hanauma Bay sees up to 3,000 snorkelers a day and is open 6 days a week.
“So we can look at how fish behavior is changing, if visitors are disrupting the feeding patterns,” Rogers added.
At Shark’s Cove, the group Malama Pupukea Waimea has seen some notable changes, from ore marine life to more juvenile fish coming into the tide pools.
“The tops of the rocks are all covered in algae. And that’s fantastic for the ecosystem. Normally all the feet scrub all that off and we don’t get to see that. So we are starting to see way more algae popping up in places we haven’t seen it before. For the Aina it’s a blessing, people giving it a break so it can do what it does best , so it can replenish and grow and provide for us in the long run,” said Jenny Yagodich.
It’s still unknown when these areas will reopen again to the public.