Maui Ocean Center whale skeleton

Maui Ocean Center whale skeleton; credit Maui CVB

Maui Ocean Center

Jeanette Valentine, Soul Of America

The zipline guide, Nick, tightens my belts, double-checks my harness and flashes a smile of encouragement. On a platform 1,800 feet above sea level, I am suspended from a sturdy cable with one foot planted on each side of a wooden gate opening. On the count of three, I am to unplant my feet and rocket into the wild blue yonder. I hold my breath, pray and wonder how to tell Nick that I’ve changed my mind. Then, it’s too late.

“One. Two. Three.”

And I am flying. Technically, I am zipping, but it feels like flying. My heart rate slows, and, I smile. Grin, really. Chatter and nervous energy from the group back on the platform recedes, and the vivid emerald of a thickly wooded forest whizzes beneath my feet.

For those wanting an underwater experience without pulling on a snorkeling mask, the Maui Ocean Center is the place to be. More than 60 indoor and outdoor exhibits immerse visitors in all aspects of marine life.

My favorite attraction is “Open Ocean,” a 54-foot acrylic tunnel that gives the illusion you are walking through water. More than 2,000 fish swim on both sides and above the path that curves through this giant tank.

Just beyond, a scuba diver is giving a lecture while standing in the aquarium, bubbles blowing from his tube as he faces a crowd of about 50 on stadium seating. His voice carries loudly and clearly over a PA system.

Nearby, a floor-to-ceiling glass column of water holds translucent Moon Jellies. These see-through thin creatures, about the size and shape of a small pancake, propel themselves forward by contracting and expanding their circumferences (called pumping their bell). The exhibit brims with these creatures, which look florescent in the darkened corridor.

What sets this aquarium apart from many others is an exhibit showing the relationship between man and the water. “Hawaiians and the Sea” features a display of a fisherman tending to the catch of the day in his canoe. Distinct chanting echoes from overhead speakers, letting us hear how native Hawaiians communed with spirits of the water.

In another section of the center, “The Living Reef,” provides a good replication of what I saw on the snorkeling trip. The exhibit provides in-depth overviews of the coral we encountered. For example, I learn that cauliflower coral is robust and can tolerate strong turbulence while finger coral is fragile and can be found as far down as 150 feet, where it avoids strong currents from storms.

Outside the main building, I peer into a tide pool and touch a starfish, then move over to the turtle tank to see the green sea turtles.

The Maui Ocean Center is home to many of the fish once living along the reefs around the island. Though not quite the experience of seeing them “nose-to-nose” underwater, it’s nice to take my time and view marine life while walking on land.

Maui Ocean Center aquarium

Maui Ocean Center, one of the world’s 10 Best Aquariums; credit Maui CVB

Maui Ocean Center

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