Still-closed Waikiki Aquarium holds Earth Month celebration

Mindy Pennybacker, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
·3 min read

Apr. 8—The Waikiki Aquarium, which has been closed for more than a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, might reopen in June, said Dr. Andrew Rossiter, director of the 116-year-old institution.

"We really hope so, because we've been getting lots of inquiries from the community at large, " Rossiter said, adding the plan is to reopen with staggered, small-group admissions, masks and social distancing, and carefully monitoring capacity, if by June Honolulu has not pulled back from its current Tier 3 of COVID-19 rules.

For now, although not admitting visitors, the aquarium is spreading its fins by offering a few in-person, outdoor activities as well as virtual learning workshops for April, Earth Month, in its 14th annual Mauka to Makai Environmental Virtual Expo, co-hosted by city, state and environmental nonprofit partners.

Today and April 22, there will be a giveaway of a native plant (or tree, if one has space ), courtesy of the Honolulu Garden Club, plus a swag bag of educational and keiki arts & crafts materials, to be picked up at the aquarium from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., one per family, supplies limited to those who register in advance at.

"Last year, just before the expo started, the city went into coronavirus lockdown, and it was a rush to put all the resources online, but it was really successful, and by request we kept the website open all year, " said Tonya Ketza, community relations specialist at the Honolulu Department of Facility Maintenance, Storm Water Quality Division, a founding co-sponsor of Mauka to Makai.

On Saturday from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., the department will organize volunteers age 12 and older to work in small groups in the Waipahu Uka area, calling attention to storm drains with stencils or markers to remind people not to dump wastewater, grease and other waste, which enters drains and gets washed into streams and the ocean.

"Our mascot is the little oopu, a native fish goby, which has a similar lifecycle to salmon, spawning in freshwater streams and then returning to the ocean, " Ketza said. "Our motto is, be an everyday clean water hero."

An online workshop for teachers on place-based curriculum design with the Hawai 'i Indigenous Mapping Project using FieldScope, a GIS platform, will be held from 4 :30-6 p.m. today.

Kaleolani Hanohano, a teacher at Kahuku High School, will discuss work with students mapping papaya, using DNA sampling to determine GMO papaya, as well as mapping kolea birds and observing their molting patterns using citizen observations.

Asked how the aquarium's inhabitants have fared in a year with no visitors rather than an average 300, 000 total visitors, "they have become a lot more placid, a lot more laid back if you like, with no distractions on the other side of the glass, " Rossiter said, noting that he had been forced to lay off 14 staff "just to keep us afloat, " spending limited resources to feed and care for the fish and monk seal and keep their environment clean.

"That's something I never want to do again, " Rossiter said of the layoffs, adding he's planning to refill the positions with former staff "and a vast majority have expressed strong interest in coming back " when the aquarium can reopen at the full capacity it requires to sustain everyone.

GETTING INVOLVED—What : Waikiki Aquarium Mauka to Makai Environmental Expo, with a mix of online workshops for children and adults, and outdoor volunteer activities such as cleanups at Waimanalo Bay Beach Park, Waimea Valley, and a fishpond and lo 'i in Pupukea, all following city COVID guidelines.—When : Through the end of April.—Where : Online and at outdoor sites ; learn details and register at—Cost : Free, but registration for all activities is limited.