Thursday, August 2, 2018

Living Art Marine Center Reef Walk at Maili Beach Park

Hawaii is a beautiful place, and we are lucky to call it our home.  The beaches and warm weather make for some ideal kid-friendly activities, from building sand castles to swimming in the ocean or having a picnic.  The kids love exploring tide pools too, as they find creatures big and small hiding under rocks and moving about in their sandy homes.  When I was little, I loved bringing my old cups to Ala Moana Beach to catch fish in the tide pools and stare at them in amazement.  That kind of discovery is priceless and now as parents, it is so much more fun to watch our kids get that same glimmer of excitement in their eyes when they've spotted a hermit crab or a darting school of fish.

During our summer break, we reserved a spot with Living Art Marine Center to participate in one of their guided reef walks at Maili Beach Park.  There were so many positive reviews posted about Living Art Marine Center online, and I wanted to schedule at least one activity during our family staycation that was fun and educational, so the reef walk was the perfect choice.  Their website listed two different locations - one at Maili and the other one at Ala Moana, but Maili was the only one with openings and closer to our home in Kapolei.  After submitting a request for a reservation using their online form, I received a phone call a couple of days later verifying the reservation by a friendly gentleman, followed by a very informative email.  Prior to participating, you are expected to be prepared with reef walking shoes (or tennis shoes, although I highly recommend water shoes) and a fishing net/bucket.  A signed release form is also a requirement that you must bring with you to the reef walk.

We met up with our instructor who then went over basics with us about tide pools along with some important safety information.  He was very knowledgeable and brought along a book about the local reef fishes, showing us what kind of aquatic animals we might encounter during the reef walk.  He also shared some personal experiences he had while diving which I thoroughly enjoyed, especially his encounters with box jellyfish and his story about finding his first sunrise shell.   After our talk, we walked down to the tide pools (a quick 5-10 minute walk) and immediately started with our adventure.  The first thing we spotted were some hermit crabs and collected those in our bucket to look at (everything caught is eventually returned to the ocean before leaving), and also a sea cucumber, sea urchin, sea anemone, coral, moray eels and a variety of fish.

The reef walk typically lasts about an hour and a half, but ours was cut short because of a small hiccup involving Emma getting overly excited about something and falling back a bit onto some sharp rock.  Unfortunately we did not bring first aid supplies (this would be helpful if you have an accident prone child, or just in general) so we had to head home earlier than expected to mend the small cut on her leg.  But up until our departure, we were having such a wonderful time and would probably do another reef walk at a later date.  Despite knowing the risks, I would gladly do this again, just with a bit more caution - the instructor recommended next time having the dive boots or socks that are higher for her which protect more of her legs, or even a wetsuit that might cover more skin.  However, my son had no problems walking around on his own, so use your own judgment in determining what's right for your child.  Keep in mind, children below the age of 4 are not allowed to participate simply because walking on rocky reef is unsafe for toddlers.

The Reef Walk was an activity our family certainly won't forget - we all learned so much about tide pools and the amazing creatures that live in them.  Cooper was fascinated with the sea cucumber, Emma was elated when we caught our very first baby convict tang, and Brian and I will never forget when he lifted a rock with me ready with my net to catch a school of fish, only to discover a moray eel darting out and giving me a terrifying (and also hilarious) fright.  These are memories we will treasure for years to come.

If you are interested in booking a reservation, make sure to sing up at Living Art Marine Center.  Plan ahead because spots fill up fast - the recommended time is 6 to 10 months ahead.

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