The extraordinary remoteness of the Hawaiian Islands has given rise to unique life that can’t be found anywhere else on the planet. That being said, the native wildlife is under constant threat from a variety of sources. Knowing how best to enjoy all that Hawai‘i has to offer while staying ecologically sensitive is important in preserving it for everyone, present and future.
- Do not feed or touch any animals (except your hungry spouse after a long hike). This includes fish, turtles, dolphins, birds, sharks (try to resist their charms), centipedes (you’ll thank me for that one), mosquitoes and pretty much anything that swims, crawls or flies. All animals should be considered wild and potentially dangerous.
- Do not take any coral, rocks or seashells with live creatures. Even broken pieces of coral can still be alive. It is illegal to take coral and it also damages the reefs.
- Do not walk on coral reefs. 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 space. Dolphins and monk seals should be given around 150 feet of distance. Sea turtles should have around 10 feet and humpback whales must be given at least 300 feet. If any of these animals approach you in the water, swim slowly and calmly, giving them space to move around you. These critters can be curious too and you’re on their turf (so to speak).
- Hawaiian monk seals are found nowhere else in the world and are endangered. If you see one resting on the beach please report it to NOAA Fisheries Service at 808-651-7668. This helps them keep track of how well seals are reestablishing their numbers.
- If you see 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 a “reef safe” sunscreen. A number of chemicals in many sunscreens have been shown to damage coral. Aerosol or spray on sunscreens seem to be the worst offenders due to how easily they wash off in the water. In general, mineral based sunscreens, with zinc oxide as the main ingredient, are considered your best bet. You can even find some clear types that don’t give you the classic, white-nosed lifeguard look.
- Non-native plants love the climate here, too and are a constant threat to the few areas that still have a majority of native plants. People and pets are great at unwittingly transporting seeds to new areas. Before hiking, it is a good idea to brush off your shoes to make sure no hitchhiking seeds have stowed away in your shoelaces.