The Wai‘ōpae Tide Pools

One of the most beautiful places on the island is gone.

Hawaiian Damselfish (Dascyllus albisella)
A Hawaiian Damselfish (Dascyllus albisella) in a pool at Wai‘ōpae
The Wai‘ōpae Tide Pools were a place where anyone could see the wonders of a coral reef. The calm and protected pools full of fish and lush coral. You could see damselfish hovering over a coral head or watch small barracuda hunt just under the surface.

And they were popular, on any given day a couple dozen locals and tourists could be seen exploring the pools. You could swim across one or two, then have to climb across a few feet of old pahoehoe lava to drop into the next. The more adventurous were rewarded with even richer coral in the outermost pools where the ocean waves created more challenging swimming conditions.

Photographers loved the place as the small pools made the fish more approachable, there was only so far a fish could run. Many of the fish were habituated to swimmers and would even approach a camera.

Wai‘ōpae Tide Pools
Wai‘ōpae Tide Pools along the shore south of Kapho Bay
The pools were so unique, such excellent habitat, that the area was designated a Marine Life Conservation District in 2003.

Looking at the latest aerial photos there are still a few pools at the south end, but most of the area is covered. Anything left in those remaining pools will have been killed by the hot acidic water coming from the lava flow.

Wai‘ōpae Tide Pools
Lush coral in calm protected pools was the halmark of the Wai‘ōpae Tide Pools
While the loss of the pools has caused universal grief, the reaction to the homes above the pools has been mixed. Comments on social media reveal substantial resentment of the private roads and gates put in by the homeowners to restrict shoreline access to the tide pools.

The gates and private roads are gone, along with substandard cesspools and septic systems that served these homes right on the shoreline and leaked into the bay.

While the homeowners may still own the land, the lots are now well back from the new shoreline. In places the lava flow has built out nearly a mile from the old shoreline, and it is still flowing strongly from fissure 8. It is no longer Kapoho Bay, the name Kapoho Point may be more accurate when this is over.

Pacific Gregory (Stegastes fasciolatus)
A pacific gregory (Stegastes fasciolatus) in a pool at Wai‘ōpae
The tide pools are not the only treasured place this eruption has destroyed. Green lake, a small lake and favorite swimming hole in the old Kapoho crater is gone. The Champagne Ponds, a series of ponds with natural hot springs is gone.

Sections of Red Road have been destroyed. Currently a large section of lower Puna is cut off with no road access. The only way in is by helicopter or boat to the Pohoiki landing.

Puna will outlast this eruption, families will rebuild, the farmers will replant. Whatever comes the land is forever changed. It will be interesting to explore the new landscape, hopefully something new has been created to replace what was lost.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on the island of Hawaiʻi.

5 thoughts on “The Wai‘ōpae Tide Pools”

  1. Pictures cannot convey the beauty that was wai opae tidepools. I consider myself lucky and blessed to haave had a chance to dive there many times( and have a puhi bite mark )2 prove it

    1. I was planning to go again last month, playing tour guide to my aunt and uncle as they toured the island. We had three nights booked at Kilauea Military Camp to allow exploration of the volcano and Puna… Had.

  2. I have spent much time in this part of the Island; a beautiful and unique place. Heart breaking to watch it creep closer to Ahalanui, one of my very favorite spots, and to realize that one last day I spent there on my last trip over may be the final time, leaving it nothing but a memory.

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