Hawaii Island Ecotourism

Hawaii Island and all the Hawaiian Islands are complex but fragile ecosystems that are easily affected by outside influences. This is partly why, in today’s small jet-connected world, Hawaii has the highest number of endangered and threatened native plant and animal species of any place on the planet. Though the Hawaiian Islands are some of the most remote in the world, they are by no means isolated, hosting more than seven million visitors each year--nearly seven times more than the resident population.

The model for sustainability in Hawaii was already in place and practiced here for more than a millennium by Native Hawaiians. Their fishing, farming, planting, aquaculture and methods of food sustainability and use of ahupuaa (contiguous land divisions which extended from the uplands to the sea) are widely regarded as the most efficient in the Pacific.

You can learn about these ancient methods at museums and historic places like Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, and see modern practices of sustainability in the efforts of Hawaii Regional Cuisine as well as the ranches of Waimea, the coffee farms of Kona and Holualoa, as well as the botanical gardens and farmers’ markets located throughout the island.

Like any large industry, tourism can put stresses on Hawaii’s natural beauty, heritage and people – the very treasures that you come to experience. Sustainable tourism on Island is about protecting, enhancing and conserving these resources for the enjoyment of future residents and visitors.

There are many ways you can embrace ecologically and culturally sustainable practices while having an extraordinary adventure.

Walk the Walk: Our county, state and national parks have miles and miles of trails where you can see rare native flora and fauna. Find out why Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage and World Biosphere Site.

Get Cultured: There are many places where you can experience Native Hawaiian culture and the other ethnic cultures that enrich our island. Look for hula performances and Japanese bon dances, multi-cultural concerts and Hawaiian luau feasts, and even cowboy culture events.

Eat WellHawaii Regional Cuisine, with its farm-to-table practices, promotes the vibrant flavors and sustainable benefits of fresh produce, fish and meats, while giving diners a delicious introduction to Hawaii’s diverse cultures.

Go to the Source: Throughout Hawaii Island you’ll find farm, aqua-farm and ranch tours offering a cornucopia of fresh products that are grown and processed using sustainable practices.

Buy the Island: Visit our local farmers’ markets and you’ll discover everything from island-grown fruit, vegetables, fish and meats to locally made crafts, soaps, jewelry, clothes and more. Likewise, many family-owned boutiques and shops sell unique products with authentic Big Island character. What a great way to bring home a true memento of your Hawaii Island stay.

Pitch a Tent: From the mountains to the seashore, you’ll find great camping in county, state and national parks all around Hawaii Island. You can drive right up to some rustic cabins and tent campgrounds, or backpack to others along remote back-country trails. You can even rent an RV! (Check county and state websites for campgrounds and permit requirements.)

Ultimately, sustainable tourism comes down to a way of thinking. This is why we ask residents and visitors alike to help us malama, or care for, our natural resources.

Malama Kai - Care for the Ocean: The ocean is of immeasurable importance in our island state. More than a quarter of the sea life here is found nowhere else on the planet. You can do your part by following these helpful Marine Wildlife Viewing Tips. We also suggest watching this fun, informative short video, “Hawaii Reef Etiquette” before entering the water.

Protect reef life: Coral reefs are complex living communities, so please don’t touch or stand on the coral or the animals and plants surrounding them. Green sea turtles are an endangered species; touching them is against federal law. Dolphins may appear to be smiling, but they are wild and capable of harming aggressive animals, including you. With all sea creatures, keep a respectful distance—for their safety and yours.

Tag and release sports fishing: Many charter boat captains “tag and release” their catches to preserve our fishing grounds. Similarly, there are seasons and catch limits on tropical and near-shore fish species, while endangered species such as the green sea turtle are carefully protected.

Turn out the lights: To avoid confusing endangered sea turtles and birds, we have a law that limits artificial lighting along our shorelines.

Malama Aina - Care for the Land: Hawaii is home to more endangered plants and animals than anywhere else on Earth. The natural environment is Hawaii Island’s greatest asset for visitors and residents alike, so please help us care for it.

Tread lightly: Generally stay on trails and be careful not to trample plants or disturb historical features. If you bring something on a hike, take it with you, leaving the land as pristine as you found it.

Take only pictures: Please resist the temptation to take rocks, shells or plants as souvenirs. Show your respect for the land by leaving it intact.

Go with a guide: Consider taking organized excursions. We have some great adventure companies that are especially sensitive to our fragile environment. They’ll show you the best spots, while telling you about the area’s human history, volcanic geology, plants and animals.

Recycle: Many visitor accommodations around the Island provide ways for you to recycle plastic, glass, paper and other waste. Please use them!

Be an Eco-Adventure Volunteer: A great way to have fun and do good while exploring Hawaii Island’s wild places is to volunteer for a few hours or a few days for conservation work, such as trail building and maintenance, planting native plants, controlling invasive species or clearing coastlines of marine debris. Some agencies to contact:

  • Hawaii Forest & Trail invites guests along for volun-tourism. (800) 464-1993, (808) 331-8505, www.hawaii-forest.com

  • The Volcano Art Center holds Forest Work Days every month. No experience or tools are required to participate. (808) 967-8222, www.volcanoartcenter.org

  • The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii is committed to preserving our plants and animals by protecting the island’s lands and waters. (808) 885-1786, www.nature.org

  • The Sierra Club protects and restores Hawaii’s native habitats, prevents the introduction and spread of alien species, and cleans up coastal pollution. (808) 965-5460, www.hi.sierraclub.org/Hawaii/mokuloa.html

  • U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service protects birds and fish, documents cultural and natural resources, and assists with research. (800) 344-WILD (9453), www.fws.gov/volunteers

  • Friends of Hawaii Volcanes National Park plants native species, collects seeds, or removes invasive weeds during monthly volunteer forest restoration projects.  (808-985-7373, www.fhvnp.org.

  • Hawaii Volcanoes National Park protects and preserves all the natural and cultural resources within its boundries. (808) 985-6166,www.nps.gov/havo/supportyourpark/volunteer.htm

The Hawaiians understood and were keenly attuned to their environment and how to keep in balance with it. These traditions serve as a guide to aspire to as we live in harmony with this special place today.