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A Life Aquatic: Exploring Undersea Maui with Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment

Ambassadors of the Environment naturalist Chelsea Trimper describes the finer points of building a driftwood shelter to her attentive “Survivor” activity pupils. Photo by Dawn Sakamoto.

It’s Friday morning and I’m boning up on my knowledge of Hawaii reef fish and coral I hope to encounter in Kapalua Bay.

Libby Erickson, a naturalist with kids’ eco-adventure program Ambassadors of the Environment, is giving me the lowdown on identifying a few species of each before we get snorkeling. Parrotfish, for example, which Erickson says we can all thank for chewing up bits of coral along with their algae dinner, digesting it and pooping out hundreds of pounds of white sand annually. Then the yellow tang, Moorish idol, butterflyfish, humuhumunukunukuapuaa—Hawaii’s official state fish—and many more.

We study sea cucumbers and red slate pencil urchins, which she promises I’ll get to touch in their habitat; spiky wana urchins, which I won’t; and several types of colorful coral.

“Coral is named after what it looks like. So there’s cauliflower coral, lobe coral, brain coral, plate coral, finger coral, antler coral. You can see where I’m going,” says Erickson, laughing.

She explains how coral gathers sunlight on its surface, how very few reside in deep water because of that and why shallow, warm Kapalua Bay is home to an impressive population of the marine invertebrates.

“As you get deeper, you see more coral species growing wider instead of higher so they have more surface area and collectors for sunlight,” she says. “And everything out there depends on that coral to survive, whether it’s for home and shelter or for food. We do, too.”

Erickson patiently makes sure I’m copacetic on my snorkeling equipment and how to snap photos with the cool blue digital camera I’ve been provided with for my “Cities Under the Sea” snorkel and underwater photography class. The class is one of about two-dozen family-friendly—though ultimately kid-focused—activities offered by the Ambassadors of the Environment program at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua resort.

Each two- to three-hour activity is committed to delivering not just a fun morning on Maui’s renowned surf and turf but some actual Hawaii-specific environmental science and lessons in taking care of our home planet as well.

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Check out these related HawaiiMagazine.com posts:
SLIDESHOW: Undersea with a camera on Maui
Ziplining at Kapalua
Mountain, sea and spa in one package at Maui’s Kapalua Villas

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