How Maui Ocean Center is redefining public aquariums

Sponsored by Maui Ocean Center

Maui Ocean Center is more than just a public aquarium. While one of its goals is to foster understanding of Hawaii’s marine life, it also embraces and integrates the Hawaiian culture to create a sense of place, creates sustainable initiatives, and strives to be model stewards of the unique marine environment.

Tapani Vuori, Maui Ocean Center’s general manager, believes the aquarium enables people of all ages and abilities to connect and engage with marine life. It serves as a community resource for residents and visitors to learn and be inspired to take care of Hawaii’s natural resources.

Hawaii is unique both environmentally and culturally, and Vuori believes this drives the need to create a sense of place at Maui Ocean Center and embrace the local culture. Recent changes to the aquarium and the incorporation of cultural in-park activities have resulted in a better understanding of Maui’s unique culture and traditions. Maui Ocean Center has also partnered with local organizations like Maui Voyaging Society and Kaho’olawe Island Reserve Commission.

Vuori hopes to create a sustainable supply chain at Maui Ocean Center by supporting organizations that are exploring ways to aquaculture marine life species as an alternative to wild collection. He highlights the work done with yellow tangs by scientists at Oceanic Institute of Hawaii Pacific University. The yellow tang is a prized fish in the aquarium trade, an industry that relies heavily on wild collection. In 2015, scientists there became the first in the world to breed and rear yellow tangs in captivity. Maui Ocean Center received its first generation of captive-bred yellow tangs to exhibit and raise awareness about the species and the developing role of aquaculture in aquarium keeping.

Vuori explains that exhibits at Maui Ocean Center, like the Humpbacks of Hawaii Exhibit & Sphere, provide new ways to experience marine life without affecting wild populations or disturbing their natural environment.

The location of Maui Ocean Center allows it to use an open-water system, meaning fresh seawater is pumped in and out from an offshore location at every hour of the day. The unique system not only adds quality to the exhibits, but also provides a healthy environment for the aquarium’s marine life to thrive in. Maui Ocean Center has also had a positive impact on Ma’alaea Harbor and the surrounding bay and is continuously looking for ways to better protect natural resources around Maui.

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