HONOLULU – Despite being one of Hawaii’s most iconic beaches, many visitors don’t know Waikiki Beach is actually an engineered beach that has been filled with imported sand for decades.
Waikiki has been facing erosion problems for years, so Hawaii lawmakers are pushing a bill to restore it.
The bill originally asked for $1.5 million to make a plan to fill a portion of the beach where erosion has left it almost entirely gone. It would also give money to design a path along the shoreline for pedestrians and bicyclists. It’s unclear how much legislators might plan to spend now; the latest version of the bill did not include a dollar amount.
The latest effort comes four years after the state spent over $2.4 million to pump sand from offshore to replenish the beach. People have been bringing in sand to make the beach wider for about 75 years.
“I never understood the value of our beach as someone growing up here until I started hearing the stories from my grandfather of the 1940s,” said Rep. Chris Lee, who grew up on Oahu and introduced the bill. “It’s a totally different beach than it was back then, and I think we have a chance to restore some of that magic.”
Photographs from the 1930s and 1940s show a continuous stretch of white sand from one end of the beach to the other. Now, it’s separated by seawalls and sections where there’s barely any beach left.
Lee said an uninterrupted stretch of beach is important to maintaining the allure of the state’s most popular tourist destination. State data shows Waikiki accounts for nearly 42 percent of visitor spending statewide. Over 8 million visitors went to Waikiki Beach in 2014.
State agencies and business organizations supported the proposal, saying Waikiki Beach is critical to the state’s economy.
“Beaches are the alluring factor to our islands and a staple reason why visitors travel here,” said Mufi Hannemann, CEO of the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association. “It is crucial that we not only maintain our beaches but improve them.”
A 2013 state report said it will take about $14 million to maintain and improve Waikiki Beach over the next 10 years.
The earliest beach replenishment projects date back to the 1920s, but the first major recorded project was in 1939. The state estimates that approximately 300,000 cu. yards of sand have been imported to Waikiki beaches over the past 75 years, often mined from other beaches within the state.