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Another Milestone for Hawai‘i's Fishes

Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui is recognized by reef advocates, industry leaders as a catalyst in the ongoing effort to restore Maui’s reefs and protect its fishes. “If we love any part of nature, but don’t defend it—we’ll lose it.”

June 16, 2011
Sarah Ruppenthal

On the afternoon of Friday, June 10, dozens of marine and reef advocates, visitor industry leaders and representatives from the County of Maui arrived at the Wailea hotel to recognize another milestone for Hawai‘i’s fishes. Maui’s Snorkel Bob Foundation and its president and founder, Robert Wintner, sponsored the event in order “to celebrate another giant step forward in the South Maui reef community.”

The Snorkel Bob Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, was spearheaded by Wintner and other ocean enthusiasts to focus on reef recovery, recognizing the global impacts of any problems on any reef around the world, as well as the recovery and protection of whales, monk seals, dolphins and other marine cetaceans.

Perceptibly energized about the hotel’s decision to “go fresh,” Wintner said, “In a move unprecedented but sure to set a shining example, the Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui took down its saltwater aquarium so that one day soon the reefs nearby may again serve as many primary users (the fish) as they did not so long ago.”

Article Photos

The Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui General Manager Charles Head (left) and Snorkel Bob Foundation Founder Robert Wintner celebrated the unveiling of an original work of fine art reef photography that will be on display in the hotel. During a reception held on Friday, June 10, Wintner praised The Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui for its “leadership in restoring Maui reefs.”

Photo by Rob Parsons

To some, the transition may not seem like such a big deal—unless you are aware of the longstanding (and at times, heated) debate over the use of saltwater aquariums to house tropical (and in come cases, endangered) fishes. These aquariums, in addition to the practice of aquarium fishing, have long been thought to be one of the greatest threats to Hawai‘i’s reefs and the delicate marine ecosystem. But many aquarium fish collectors, distributors and fishermen defend the industry as economically viable and culturally protected, as long as it is done responsibly.

Despite this rationale, a number of impassioned marine advocates continue to argue that aquarium fishing is Public Enemy No. 1 when it comes to depleting Hawai‘i’s reefs. According to the Snorkel Bob Foundation Website ( “The aquarium trade fills 80 percent of all tanks in the U.S. with Hawai‘i reef fish, 99 percent of which die in a year… those same fish live up to 40 years on the reef. Those fish leave $3 to 4 each in Hawai‘i, but retail for $40 to $50, and each fish requires a few hundred dollars more in hardware—tanks, filters, pumps, etc.”

Apparently, other sectors across the state have taken notice of this issue, and they are willing to get their feet wet.

Guests at last week’s event included County of Maui Environmental Coordinator Rob Parsons, Maui County Councilmember Joe Pontanilla, Maui Tomorrow Foundation Executive Director Irene Bowie, Nick’s Fishmarket Founder and CEO Aaron Placourakis, Grand Wailea Resort & Spa Operations Manager Kai Pelayo, Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui General Manager Charles Head and former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hanneman, who is currently serving as president of the Hawai‘i Hotel and Lodging Association.

“Mufi knows that Hawai‘i is a reef destination,” said Wintner. “Over half of our visitors want a reef experience. No reefs, no experience. Word must get out that Hawai‘i is bringing its reefs back to an abundance of fish.”

The Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui is the first to tackle the issue of saltwater fish solely on display for visual appeal. Wintner, and others in attendance, applauded the hotel for taking “the baton on pono business management in a grand style.”

Within the last decade, The Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui has embarked on a crusade to become of the most environmentally friendly hotels on Maui. The resort credits the efforts of its “Green Team” of employees, who have “successfully created and implemented over 50 environmentally friendly initiatives throughout the hotel for over 10 years.”

Operating under the principle of Malama i ka Hanauna (Protecting Future Generations), The Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui was recently awarded received the “Hawai‘i Green Business Award.” As one of his first decisions as the hotel’s newest general manager, Head said the transition from saltwater to freshwater is the tip of the proverbial iceberg, and will serve as a catalyst for other hotels and resorts on Maui. “It’s a model for everyone else,” he said. “This is an example of how this can happen.”

Wintner said he hopes that others will soon follow in the hotel’s footsteps. “It will work out for the best if our reef wildlife is abundantly displayed on the reefs out front, instead of in bar aquariums,” he said.

With that, Wintner unveiled an original work of fine art reef photography that will soon be on display within the hotel. Presenting it to Head, he said, “This artwork is a gift—not for the Snorkel Bob Foundation to the Fairmont Kea Lani—but a gift from Neptune to all of us, to be held in trust by the hotel.”

Pointing to the marigold-colored fish gazing into the eye of the camera, Wintner noted, “If you ever tried to get a family album portrait at depth, you know that yellow tangs will not face the camera... this yellow tang sends a message of gratitude [and it] embodies a spirit that we share and must protect. This yellow tang reminds us who, exactly, is the primary user group and maintenance crew on our reefs—it’s our fish.”



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