What Is Happening in Hanalei Bay?

By Terry Lilley, Marine Biologist

Hi Ocean Lovers,

There was once a beautiful bay called Hanalei! Crystal clear water, beautiful fish dancing around their home of healthy coral and sea turtles gliding effortlessly between the waves looking for a meal of limu. Beautiful waves breaking at the bowl where the water was so clear surfers often thought they would run into the corals when they tucked into a big tube.

This was the view I had of Hanalei Bay when I first surfed it in 1975 and when I started my underwater video series of the Bay in 2002. Since then I have surfed the bay hundreds of times and have done over 300 scuba dives, day and night, taking HD video of the marine life, corals , sharks and honu. My new video coming out called “Near Shore Hawaiian Fish” will feature some of this pristine underwater video of Hanalei back in 2005. As a marine biologist I not only like to surf and dive, but I like to help protect the animals I call my friends and Ohana that live below the waves.

Today, the Bay is filled with thick mud on the bottom which has killed almost all of the shallow water corals in the last two years! The reef is littered with broken coral, tires, boat trailers and other junk. The water by the pier has been clear over the past few days for the first time in one year! There has been so much mud at the pier that kids jumping off the pier have hit the bottom and got seriously hurt because they could not see the bottom. At the bowl the mud is over four feet thick on the bottom and this mud has built up over the past year, and was not cleaned out by last winters large surf. I have had dozens of tourist ask me why the water in Hanalei is brown as it used to be a beautiful blue-green and clear? I have been asked many times why does the water stink in Hanalei Bay?

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  • Is this for real? I’m one of those tourists that is hoping to stay close to this beach next April and I do not want to leave my vacation with an infection. I’m also a pretty eco-minded person and feel that this is just devastating news. Good for you Terry for getting the word out. I’m kind of worried about staying near Hanalei Bay now though. Are the other north shore beaches safe? Considering you are so aware of the destruction, would you recommend swimming in Hanalei Bay? What can we do to help? I don’t want my week in paradise ruined!

  • For the past 2 weeks we have been body boarding surfing and swimming in Hanalei mostly down at Grandpas beach off of anae rd. the water is beautiful and we’ve had no issues. I have not been near the pier so have not seen the mud. I do hope there is a solution for this soon! This bay is too beautiful to have murky muddy water!!

  • For starts, the picture taken is at the mouth of the river. Secondly, love internet, but it allows anyone to say whatever for their own agenda; and perhaps to disaude others from coming and enjoying the magic. the water is still clear and amazing around the bay. I do agree at times the water near the river has been brown. Could be because it just rained…but for the most part anywhere on the other side of pier which is 95% of the bay is pristine. So come live your Kauai dream……we love to share with respect Aloha Kauai angel

  • I’d say it’s just the river overall. Last Winter it was all over the news about how much rain was dumped in only a few days. Lots of heavy rain is going to cause erosion which will run to the river which will run to the bay. I’m from Canada and have never been to Kauai but will soon, so I really don’t know anything. Thing is, I’m from BC where it can rain cats and dogs and when it does, the after affect for a long time can be muddy waters.

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