Who hasn’t wanted to explore the ocean deep in a submarine? What visitor to Hawai‘i doesn’t want to experience the magic of tropical marine life? With Atlantis Submarines in Waikīkī, on Maui and Hawai‘i Island, island guests and locals alike can do both at the same time.
Atlantis encounters with Pacific Ocean wonders may have never happened if founder and president of Atlantis Submarines International, Inc. Dennis Hurd, had not come up with an amazing idea. Hurd wanted to design a unique passenger submarine that could show guests amazing underwater marine life. He came up with this idea while taking clients in submarines to inspect drilling sites for North Sea oil rigs. The thrill that these executives got from subsea exploration was enough to make Hurd think about designing passenger submarines that everyone could enjoy. He hatched a business plan, borrowed money from friends and family, and built a unique passenger submarine designed to show guests marine mysteries over 100 feet below the surface of the ocean.
Atlantis Submarines was launched in Grand Cayman in 1986. Atlantis also added submarine tours in Barbados, St. Thomas, Aruba, Guam, Cozumel, O‘ahu, Maui and Hawai‘i Island. To date, Atlantis Submarines International has served over 16 million guests since its launch.
The first Atlantis Hawai‘i dive took place off Kona on Hawai‘i Island on August 15, 1988. On O‘ahu, Waikīkī’s submarine tours launched in September 1989. According to Tim McKeague, Atlantis Safety and Training Supervisor and Company Security Officer, the Waikīkī dive site had little marine life back in 1989. “Unfortunately, while Waikīkī contains much of Hawai‘i’s ‘human life,’ it did not have the island’s best reef formations,” recalls McKeague, “so starting in 1989, Atlantis began placing a series of artificial reefs in a 5.8-acre area that was mostly barren with limited marine life activity.”
Installed in partnership with the University of Hawai‘i’s Sea Grant Program and the Hawai‘i State Department of Land and Natural Resources, the artificial reefs today consist of sculpture-like concrete pyramid forms and ring structures, a decommissioned Navy tanker, a former fishing vessel, and large sections from two aircrafts. “One of the airplanes sits on the ocean in three sections,” says McKeague, “although that was not the intent. The airplane was placed in the water by crane with a cable under the fuselage. When the captain stopped to make sure everything was going according to plan, a swell came in, causing the cable to cut the airplane in three pieces like a cheese slicer!”
While sinking large vessels sounds ‘awesome’ and ‘fun,’ the process of getting to that point does not. “We work with 13 different government bodies before a final plan gets approved,” explains McKeague, who is also responsible for Atlantis’ green conservation efforts. “Ironically, we spent two years getting approvals to sink The Carthaginian, a 97-foot replica whaling supply ship and former Lāhaina tourist attraction. We spent those two years trying to keep the decaying boat afloat in harbor so we could sink it at sea.”
Building this beautiful undersea environment has helped to increase marine life off the coast of Waikīkī. This is just one of the many commitments the Atlantis team has made as a leader in the ecotourism industry. Their very first submarine, and every one since, has run entirely on battery power. They not only help maintain a pristine ocean environment, but the quiet operation does not disturb marine life. It comes as no surprise to their guests or the local community that since 2014 Atlantis Adventures has been a certified sustainable tour operator by the Hawaii Ecotourism Association.
One might see under the sea…
Today’s vibrant, self-sustaining ecosystem teems with schools of colorful indigenous fish and other marine life, including green sea turtles, moray eels, stingrays and reef sharks, but one feels obligated to ask McKeague, who is also a licensed submarine pilot, what are the most amazing sightings to date?
“On one dive the guides were debating over the size of a whale shark. One person was saying 25 feet, another was saying 40 feet, another 50. It wasn’t until a couple of minutes of this back and forth had gone on then it became apparent that there were THREE WHALE SHARKS!” But maybe the best story McKeague tells is about a Maui dive where three humpback whales surrounded the submarine. “Each of the whales was as big, or bigger, than the submarine itself.”
You never know what you will see when you dive over 100 feet below the surface of the ocean in a submarine. Mother Nature puts on an amazing show for all to enjoy! On board an Atlantis Submarine, one can marvel—dry and protected—with loved ones, and make memories of a lifetime.