The Hawaiian Islands are incredibly remote, giving rise to unique life that can’t be found anywhere else on Earth. Unfortunately, the native wildlife is constantly under threat from a variety of sources, and knowing how best to enjoy all that Hawai‘i has to offer while staying ecologically sensitive is important in preserving it for the future.
- Unless you’re at the Pana‘ena Rain Forest Zoo, where it is encouraged in one section, do not feed animals. This includes fish, birds, turtles, dolphins, sharks (try to resist that toothy smile), centipedes (you’ll only pet ’em once) and pretty much anything that crawls, swims or flies. Feeding wild animals your leftovers does more harm than good. If they get accustomed to eating your food, they won’t eat their normal diet and the chain gets out of whack.
- Do not take any coral, rocks, seashells or live creatures. It is illegal to take coral—which might still be alive—and also damages the reefs.
- Do not walk on coral reefs. This is something we see far too often at places such as Kahalu‘u Beach Park. Coral is a colony of many organisms and damaging even a small part of it can cause a whole colony to die.
- Give sea creatures plenty of room. Monk seals and dolphins should be given at least 150 feet. Sea turtles need around 10 feet and humpback whales must be given a hundred yards. If any of these animals approach you in the water, slow down and give them room to move around you. Like you, animals can be curious.
- Hawaiian monk seals are unique to Hawai‘i and are endangered. If you see one resting on the beach, don’t approach it. They need to rest before returning to the ocean to hunt. Please call the NOAA Fisheries Service at 808-756-5961 for the east side of the island, or 808-987-0765 for the west. This helps with keeping track of how well they are reestablishing their numbers.
- If happen upon a turtle, whale, dolphin or seal tangled in fishing line or netting, do not try to free it. Call 888-256-9840 and the NOAA animal rescue squad will respond.
- Consider purchasing reef safe sunscreen. A number of chemicals in sunscreens have been shown to damage coral. Aerosol or spray-on sunscreens seem to be the worst (because of how easily they wash off in the water). In general, mineral-based sunscreens, with zinc oxide as the main ingredient, are considered the most environmentally friendly. You can even find some clear types that don’t give you the classic, white-nosed lifeguard look.
- Many native plants are also endangered and should only be viewed. Some unique, native trees like the ´ohi´a do well in a variety of environments, even recent lava flows. Do not pick the lehua blossoms from these trees. Picking any plants is illegal in National Parks plus local legend says picking lehua blossoms will make it rain.
- Non-native plants love the climate here and are a constant threat to the few areas that still have a majority of native plants. Turns out people and pets are great at unwittingly transporting seeds to new areas. After hiking, it is a good idea to brush off your shoes before getting into your car to make sure no hitchhiking seeds have stowed away in your shoelaces.