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Preserving Hawaii’s Natural Beauty

Chinaman's Hat, one of the many roadside attractions on Oahu.

Chinaman’s Hat in Windward Oahu.

With millions of visitors traveling to Hawaii every year, it is a wonder that verdant rainforests still flourish, waterfalls can be enjoyed in solitude and fresh fruits can be plucked off of wild trees.  However, there is an on-going battle to protect the natural resources and beauty of the Hawaiian Islands.

Despite its still stunning natural beauty, the Hawaiian Islands have a very sensitive and fragile ecological state. As many of its endemic lifeforms have developed in isolation from the rest of the world, many native Hawaiian species are highly vulnerable to outside influences. As a result, Hawaii has lost more native species than any other place on earth.  In fact, Hawaii is known as the endangered species capital of the world.  However, there is an on-going battle to protect the natural resources of the islands. Here are some helpful ways tourists as well as locals can minimize their impact on Aloha State’s fragile environment.

Do not bring in plants and animals into the state.  Ever since the arrival of European and American settlers, the intentional as well as unintentional introduction of non-native species into Hawaii have had irreversible long term negative consequences on the Aloha State including the extinction of many native species, such as birds, insects and plants. Visitors can do their part by not bringing in any plants and animals into the state without advanced approval by appropriate State of Hawaii government agencies. This is why you have to declare such items before your arrival into the State and are given such forms just before your flight lands.

Respect the natural environment. Whenever you venture out in Hawaii for a hike, a drive or simply a stroll along the beach, stay within marked areas to minimize damage to other parts of the forest or seashore, avoid trekking on any plants and keep your distance from any endangered marine mammals and birds that you may encounter. What might seem harmless to you could prove damaging to the well-being of an endangered species or plant which State of Hawaii is working hard to restore, foster and protect. Plus, it is illegal to approach or harass endangered marine mammals and birds in Hawaii and violators are subject to fines and/or imprisonment.

Papakolea Green Sand Beach. Photo by Edward Hon.

Though you might find black sand, lava rock, coral, sea shell as well as and other kinds of natural treasure unique to Hawaii, do not ever remove them or take them with you.  Not only is the removal natural objects from the island is not only frowned upon and deprives future visitors from enjoying them as much as you have, it is illegal and violators could incur serious fines. Plus, while it is only a legend, many violators have felt compelled to return such illegally obtained items because of the supposedly bad luck they have endured since taking them.  So why take a chance?

Reduce waste and recycle.  Hawaii has a recycling law which charges a deposit whenever you buy certain types of bottle or plastic containers. The intent was to make sure people have incentives to recycle such items.  While you may not have an opportunity to recover your deposits, you can do your part by placing such items in recycle bins so that others may benefit from turning them in.  Hawaii, being a small island state, has limited land for waste disposal areas; so anything that both residents and tourists can do in this area will minimize the need to create new waste disposal dump sites within the State. Furthermore many places in Hawaii, the island of Oahu in particular, can get fresh spring water directly from the tap, making it unnecessary to buy bottled water in plastic containers. In such instances, you can do your part, by buying a reusable water container and just fill it up from a faucet.

Use environmentally safer sunscreen. Though slathering on sunscreen is not something you generally give a second thought to, the amount of visitors swimming in Hawaiian can actually affect the pollution levels of the water from the residue of sunscreen. Popular beaches, such as Hanauma Bay, have its reefs impacted by the thousands of swimmers using sun screen. While there no definitive answer to this problem, it appears that the ingredient oxybenzone in sunscreens may be the problem.  Instead of using chemicals like oxybenzone, more companies are now making sunscreens that use mineral blockers such as zinc-oxide, which could reduce harm to coral reefs.  However, not all non-oxybenzone sunscreens may be safe, even oil-based products often sold by natural brands. One researcher found that lavender, tea tree, jojoba and other oils, which can act as natural insecticides, may kill delicate coral cells. So for now, it seems like the sun screens using zinc oxide may be the type that you should use to minimize impact to reef life.


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