The Hawaiian Islands are unlike anyplace else in the world. The extraordinary remoteness made colonization by plants and animals just a chance occurrence over millions of years. These days, shipping and air travel has expedited the introduction of new life. That’s not a good thing. As a result, the native wildlife is under constant threat from a variety of sources. Maui has a lot to offer, but it is important to preserve it for everyone—present and future.
- Unless at a petting zoo or sanctuary where it is permitted, do not feed any animals. This includes fish, turtles, dolphins, birds, sharks (try to resist their charms), centipedes (you’ll thank me for that one), mosquitoes (on second thought pet them all you want) and pretty much anything that swims, crawls or flies. Feeding wild animals leftover Kalua pork can not only harm that particular animal, but can create a devastating chain reaction through the food chain, so save your leftovers for later. All animals should be considered wild and potentially dangerous.
- Do not take any coral, rocks seashells or live creatures. Even broken pieces of coral can still be alive. It is illegal to take coral and it also damages the reefs.
- We see this all the time, and it’s a personal pet peeve. Do not walk on coral reefs, please. 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 at least 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.
- Hawaiian monk seals are found nowhere else in the world and are endangered. If you see one resting on the beach, do not disturb it. After all, how would you feel if you were out swimming all day and when you went to your home to sleep there was a strange monkey in your bedroom taking pictures and yelling? You are that monkey. Just enjoy them from a distance and report it to NOAA Fisheries Service at 808-292-2372. It’s not a trivial report. This helps with keeping track of how well they 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 the most environmentally friendly. You can even find some clear types that don’t give you the classic, white-nosed lifeguard look. (Not talking stink about you lifeguards, but your white nose does look a little funny…)
- Many native plants are also endangered and should only be viewed, not touched. The Silversword of Haleakala, for example, is endemic (found nowhere else) to Hawai‘i. Only on Big Island and Maui do they exist.
- 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 that 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 you get in your car to make sure no hitchhiking seeds have stowed away in your shoelaces.