An artist sits on scaffolding, painting a large mural depicting a woman with marine creatures for hair on a bright turquoise background.
Vanishing Mural Artist Jana Ireijo paints a mural at the Maui Ocean Center (MOC). © Courtesy of Maui Ocean Center

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The Nature Conservancy’s "Vanishing" Mural at Maui Ocean Center Highlights Plight of Hawai‘i’s Coral Reefs

In honor of Earth Day, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) commissioned a mural to be painted at the Maui Ocean Center (MOC) that highlights the perils faced by coral reefs. Hawai‘i-born artist Jana Ireijo, who creates ephemeral "vanishing" murals that illustrate the impacts of climate change on vulnerable species and habitats worldwide, was enlisted by TNC to create the mural in partnership with Maui Ocean Center Marine Institute.

“I am inspired by the beauty and fragility of our natural environment,” says Irejio. “My mission with these murals is to raise awareness and inspire a sense of urgency to take action—to let the murals vanish, so our natural environment does not.”

The mural will feature Hawai‘i’s spectacular marine life in brilliant hues; however, some of its colors will fade over a period of weeks, similar to how corals can bleach and die when subjected to prolonged increases in ocean temperatures caused by climate change. 

My mission with these murals is to raise awareness and inspire a sense of urgency to take action—to let the murals vanish, so our natural environment does not.

“Coral reefs are the backbone of our islands’ economy, supporting the lives and livelihoods of our local communities,” says Kim Hum, TNC’s Hawai‘i marine program director. “Coral bleaching occurs when ocean temperatures increase above normal seasonal levels, as happened in 2015 when we lost 30% of our living coral reefs statewide. This destruction is something few people see because it occurs below the ocean’s surface. Ms. Ireijo’s creative approach allows people to visualize what’s happening to our reefs without getting wet.”

The reefs that line Hawai‘i’s coasts are environmental, economic, recreational, and cultural treasures that provide coastal protection and jobs valued at more than $830 million, support nearshore fisheries worth $13.4 million, and contribute more than $1.2 billion through reef-related tourism to the state’s economy. Local pressures from overfishing and land-based pollutants have contributed to a 60% decline in living coral reefs in some areas over the past 40 years.

“Our organizations work to restore and protect Hawai‘i’s coral reefs, and the impacts of climate change add to our challenges,” says Tommy Cutt, executive director of Maui Ocean Center Marine Institute. “We are delighted to partner with TNC to raise awareness of this issue through this ephemeral art.”

Guests can watch Ms. Ireijo create the mural at the Nalu Lawn through April 21 (weather permitting). “Maui Ocean Center is proud to host Ms. Ireijo and showcase her compelling work,” adds MOC General Manager Tapani Vuori.

The finished mural will be unveiled on Earth Day, April 22, and then vanish at the mercy of the elements over the ensuing weeks. For the health, safety, and well-being of guests and staff, MOC currently offers limited and timed entry. To arrange a visit, go to mauioceancenter.com.

For more information on local efforts to protect Hawai‘i’s nearshore marine environment, visit nature.org/hawaii and mocmarineinstitute.org.

To learn more about Ms. Ireijo’s art, visit janaireijoart.com.

Maui Ocean Center Marine Institute is a non-profit organization whose mission is to inspire lifelong environmental stewardship and ensure the survival of coral reefs and sea turtles in Hawai'i through science-based conservation efforts, education, and outreach. Visit mocmarineinstitute.org.

The Maui Ocean Center was named “Top 10 Aquariums in the World” by TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice. The Aquarium of Hawai`i is home to one of the world’s largest displays of live coral. Explore exhibits flourishing with sharks, turtles, stingrays, and marine life found nowhere else in the world through a mix of indoor-outdoor displays and educational presentations. The complete award-winning Maui Ocean Center experience includes Hawaiian cultural exhibits, dining at ocean view Seascape Restaurant and Reef Café, world-class shopping at Maui Ocean Treasures, the Humpbacks of Hawai`i exhibit and The Sphere Experience. The park is open daily from 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. (final admission at 2 p.m.) with on-line reservations and ticket pre-purchase required. Maui Ocean Center is part of the global family of Coral World International.

The mission of Maui Ocean Center is to foster understanding, wonder and respect for Hawaii’s marine life. For more information please contact the Maui Ocean Center: mauioceancenter.com

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 75 countries and territories: 37 by direct conservation impact and 38 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.