Maui Ocean Center Under New Guidance
The Maui Ocean Center is an island gem and renowned for its underwater tunnel which allows visitors to essentially walk through a 750,000 gallon tank as sharks and other sea life swim up above. The center is about to get a major upgrade with a master planned exhibit featuring 134 seats, a fully immersive 3D setup, and a few other brand new exhibits.
Via the General Manager, Tapani Vuori, “We are really hoping to make it something people have never seen before, it’s like a huge military radar dome.” The $3+ million theater was commissioned as part of the brand new Humpback Whale Discovery exhibit which will be housed next to the administration building on Nalu Lawn. The Humpback exhibit will have other activities, but the large dome theater will be the main focal point.
A very similar view to what it’s like when they swim over you in the tunnel
The center is moving full steam ahead with their plans and have retained various staff and independent contractors to lay the groundwork for the center’s most ambitious project since its initial construction.
Earlier in the year, the center recruited a German filmmaker to visit the island during whale season and produce a special movie for the theater; they are confident enough in his work that he has been to Maui on several occasions to collect various footage.
In addition to a film producer, the center has brought on an exhibit designer to its staff and contracted a construction manager to work on finalizing permit applications that will then be presented to the county.
According to Vuori, there is definitive time table, but the best he can say is they have an intended completion date of early next year, “I can’t make any promises yet, but all the people involved in the construction of this are really excited,” he said.
So far, the plans call for the exhibit to be built in phases with the smaller activities to be built sometime before the opening of the theater. The small activities intended to be built include an informative exhibit on climate change, limu, and algae.
The center has also made an effort to honor Hawaiian culture by landscaping the complex with indigenous native Hawaiian plants. They have even brought on cultural practitioners to teach visitors about old hawaiian fishing techniques and explain best practices for preserving the local fish population.
The revamp of the center is aimed at boosting the number of visitors which saw over 300,000 visitors and is regarded as one of the top attractions in the state, according to Pacific Business News. The center is projected to see 340,000 visitors by the end of 2017, only behind Haleakala National Park and Iao Valley.
Since taking over as general manager 1.5 years ago, Vuori is not only focused on boosting revenue and visitor figures, “We’re going through a paradigm shift where we are really becoming a community resource, we are no longer just an aquarium.”
He also has been instrumental in focusing on the Ocean Center Marine Institute by developing rehabilitation programs designed to better the lives of sea turtles and the expansion of the existing coral bank at the aquarium.
Vuori serves as president of the board of the nonprofit marine institute, which is aimed at getting more of the community involved with securing the future of marine life. Vuori said a variety and an abundance of people have voiced interest in volunteering for the nonprofit and hope to create orientation programs where meaningful work is carried out by volunteers.
Vurio clearly is the right man for the job and is working tirelessly to make a difference on Maui, “This is our kuleana and what I mean about being a community stakeholder, we take positions and showcase to people what is important because we are the ocean experts. If it’s not us then who? This is our moral obligation and how passionate I feel about it.”
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