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Tip: This holiday in May is dedicated to the beautiful Hawaiian tradition of making and wearing lei.
Maui Ocean Center
Rounding the corner into the Living Reef at the Maui Ocean Center is like stepping into a psychedelic fishbowl. The walls, fitted with more than 40 aquariums, are alive with tropical fish flashing like prisms of dazzling light through living coral reefs. In this surround, humans tend to lower their voices and gawk.
“This is what you see when you’re scuba diving — if you’re lucky,” said one awed adult.
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Located at Ma’alaea Harbor Village overlooking Ma’alaea Small Boat Harbor off Honoapi’ilani Highway between Kahului and Lahaina, the $20-million aquarium is designed to draw visitors through a series of indoor and outdoor exhibits. The Living Reef building is home to thousands of live coral, where you can go eye-to-eye with the likes of moray eels, other-worldly garden eels, reef fish, shrimps, Hawaiian white-spotted tobies, sharks and an octopus. In a courtyard outside the reef building are three outdoor exhibits—a turtle lagoon, a touch pool filled with sea stars, helmet shells and other tide-pool animals and a Sting Ray Cove where Hawaii’s enchanting rays glide to and fro on their underwater wings.
The newest exhibit is called the Marine Mammal Discovery Center. Here interactive displays are used to acquaint visitors with sea creatures like the humpback whale, dolphins and the Hawaiian Monk Seal.
The center’s show-stopper has got to be an exhibit designed to simulate a walk in the open ocean with 2,000 fish swirling above, around and below you. The fish are contained in a 750,000-gallon enclosure, which viewers traverse via a 52-foot long, four-inch thick 240-degree acrylic tunnel. Picture humans standing entranced, unable to resist the temptation of looking a shark in the eye or hitching an imaginary ride on the wings of a passing spotted eagle ray. Sealife that you can expect to see in the tank include: tiger sharks, hammerhead sharks, blacktip reef sharks, grey reef sharks, whitetip reef sharks, sandbar sharks, spotted eagle ray, broad stingray, and dozens of species of tropical reef and pelagic fish. Like the man said, this is what you see when you’re scuba diving—if you’re lucky.
The Maui Ocean Center, open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (9 a.m. to 6 p.m. July and August), offers plenty of free parking and is handicap-accessible throughout.