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Doing the right thing (pono) when you visit

The islands of Hawai‘i are the most geographically isolated landmass on the planet. These mountain-islands, rising high out of the Pacific Ocean, actually create weather around them and also have some of the most varied environments anywhere. It has been said that descending from the top of Mauna Kea to the coral reefs just below the ocean surface, you pass through more ecological zones than driving from Canada to Mexico. This isolation and diversity has resulted in a haven for creatures to develop their own unique ways of surviving in paradise.

Being paradise, Hawai‘i also makes for an ideal place for unwanted critters of all kinds to set up shop. Be they long time Kama‘aina like the pigs and guava trees or relative new comers like the coqui frogs and little fire ant, it is a constant battle to try and keep the new guys from overwhelming our longest established residents. When coming to Hawai‘i by plane you see part of this process in the agricultural inspection form handed out just before arrival. This highlights the especially difficult task of keeping out new diseases, those that could damage our native and commercial plant life. Both coffee and bananas farms all over the world are facing devastating failure due to disease that has, thankfully, not yet appeared in the Rainbow State.

Most visitors are not likely to be “patient zero” for introducing an agricultural pest. Where our visitors, and Hawai‘i Revealed readers, can make the biggest difference is by embracing a concept known here as “pono”. Pono is an aspect of the “Aloha Spirit” that generally translates to “do the right thing”. This idea can be utilized in any aspect of one’s life but has particular significance when it comes to respecting life around you. All are welcome to come experience and enjoy the natural wonders here in Hawai‘i. Knowing the best way to do this is key to making sure these things are intact for future visitors and residents alike.

One of the simplest ways to respect the wild plant and animal life here is to not touch. The Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle frequents most every place that people swim, snorkel and generally recreate. The first time one sees one of these huge reptiles grazing on seaweed or hauling itself onto shore for a snooze is a memory that sticks with you. It is easy to get excited, especially for little ones (keiki), and be tempted to get in for a closer look. Though the turtles are gentle, plant eating giants and probably somewhat used to the attention, the gathered onlookers can quickly become a mob. Being unfamiliar with wildlife and uninformed on keeping a safe distance (10ft minimum), some folks will even try to get touch or ride the turtle. These are wild animals, not a theme park attraction. Green sea turtles are some of the only sea turtles known to come to shore to rest. They are so docile (and perhaps tired…) that they do this right on some of the most popular beaches throughout the islands. They will, however, turn back to the ocean if they feel they are being harassed.

Hawai‘i has an amazing group of animals that fascinate thousands of visitors every year. Be it a green sea turtle, coral head, monk seal, honeycreeper or humpback whale, these creatures deserve our respect. Please, if you encounter any wildlife during your visit to the Hawaiian islands, embrace the pono ideal; take only pictures and give them their space.

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