MAKENA - The Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve will remain closed to people for another two years, the state announced Wednesday.
The Board of Land and Natural Resources voted last month to extend the closure, which had been scheduled to expire Aug. 1. The restrictions will allow Ahihi-Kinau's natural resources to continue to be protected while staff members complete a draft management plan for the area.
"This is needed to allow time for completion of a long-term management plan that will provide alternatives on how to preserve resources and provide for public access and use at the same time without damaging natural resources and diminishing the value of the reserve," said BLNR Chairwoman Laura Thielen.
The reserve was closed to people Aug. 1, 2008, after years of escalating conflicts over human use. Large numbers of visitors had been hiking across the lava flows in Ahihi-Kinau in search of coves that had been publicized in guidebooks as snorkel spots called "Fishbowl" and "Aquarium."
The area is technically a reserve, meaning it was set aside to serve as protected habitat for wildlife, not as a recreational area for people. Heavy use had been starting to degrade the environment and drive away birds and sea creatures, wildlife officials said.
Since the closure, surveys have shown some of the resources in the restricted areas have seen improvement, while previously unknown evidence that resources had been degraded by public use were revealed.
Over the past two years, DLNR officers have been conducting surveys and monitoring the area's marine, geological and cultural resources as part of their efforts to develop a long-term management plan for the reserve.
The plan has taken longer than expected to complete, in part because Ahihi-Kinau has so many more cultural and archaeological sites than other places in the Natural Area Reserve System and also because of the budget and staffing challenges faced by DLNR over the past two years, officials have said.
The plan is expected to be released for public comment this fall.
The northern part of the reserve will continue to be open to the public from 5:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., including the areas known as Waiala or Kanahena Cove, and the coastal area along Ahihi Bay near the "Dumps" surf spot.
"The most popular and well-used portions of the reserve will remain open for use during visitor hours, as they have for the last two years, but other more remote and sensitive areas will remain closed to the general public," Thielen said.
People who enter the closed portions of the reserve can be arrested and face punishment of a fine up to $1,000 and imprisonment for up to one year.
For more information on the reserve or a map of the restricted areas, visit hawaii.gov/dlnr/dofaw/nars or call the Maui office of the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife at 984-8100.