Author: Evan Pascual
The sun’s first light pierces through the window, you hit the snooze button for what feels like the thousandth time, and you dread removing yourself from the comfort of your bed. Sound familiar? While many of us are waking up and wiping the “sleep from our eyes” (maka piapia in Hawaiian), a team of dedicated curators is already working hard preparing Maui Ocean Center to open.
Some say the best way to jump-start the morning is with a cup of coffee, but nothing wakes up our curators more than a frigid dip into 71°F saltwater at the crack of dawn. Our curatorial team is a special group of experienced divers and aquarists tasked with the care of all marine animals and exhibits at Maui Ocean Center. Dressed in neoprene wetsuits and dive masks, these “underwater astronauts” are equipped with an array of tools to tackle what’s known around here as morning maintenance.
Like astronauts, they work in a world free from gravity. Divers experience an anti-gravity effect that creates an upward buoyant force, requiring suction cups and weighted belts to stay in place. As they walk across the bottom of the exhibit, each step appears to happen in slow motion, like an astronaut walking across the moon’s surface.
Head Aquarist Larissa Treese leads the talented team of aquarists with over 11 years of experience at Maui Ocean Center. This team operates primarily behind-the-scenes doing everything from exhibit maintenance to animal husbandry. One of Larissa’s most valuable tools is a product that lives up to its name – Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser. These are used to clean exhibit glass walls and are safe for marine animals.
Graduating from Maui Ocean Center’s Junior Naturalist program in 2001, Aquarist Nadine has developed watchful eyes and steadfast hands that allow her work with and around delicate live corals. Using a siphon, she digs through the sandy substrate and gently glides over coral polyps to remove any product waste to ensure excellent water quality for the animals.
In the outdoor exhibits where the animals and corals receive direct sunlight, the battle to control excessive algae growth is never-ending. Harry has been with the Aquarium since opening in 1998 and is a key member of the dive team, a group of individuals that work in tandem with the aquarists and are responsible for the 750,000-gallon Open Ocean exhibit and the 20 sharks that reside in it. When he’s not taking care of the sharks, rays, and turtles, you can find Harry with a toothbrush and vacuum removing algae in the outdoor Surge Zone, Discovery Pool, Nursery Bay, Tide Pool, and Turtle Lagoon exhibits.
Ever wonder what it’s like to be swarmed by over 30 species of reef fish? Ask John Gorman, the Head Curator of exhibits, and he’ll refer to breakfast time in the 50,000-gallon Shallow Reef exhibit, which is the 3rd largest live coral exhibit in the US. Nothing excites 400-500 herbivores more than the sight of John with bundles of lettuce. John was instrumental in opening Maui Ocean Center and is the Director of the Curatorial Department, overseeing both aquarist and dive teams.
Getting the park ready for opening hours can get a little hectic at times, but the curators always find a way to make it fun. Assistant Curator Jim is second-in-command and has spent his career caring for sharks and marine animals from Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands to Maui, Hawaii. After spending 16 years at Maui Ocean Center, Jim is never shy to interact with guests through the glass and show off one of his many talents, like blowing up a series of bubble rings.
Larissa, Nadine, Harry, John, and Jim are just a few of the curators at Maui Ocean Center and morning maintenance is a fraction of all the tremendous work they do. The next time you’re planning a visit to Maui Ocean Center, consider visiting from 9am-10am. It’s a little less crowded and you’re very likely to turn a corner and spot a curator in action. Bring the kids, throw a shaka while snapping a selfie with a diver, and you may even get a high five or a couple of bubble rings!