19.8968° N, 155.5828° W
MAKE SURE YOU ARE BEING A RESPONSIBLE TRAVELER WHEN VISITING THE TROPICAL PARADISE OF HAWAII. THESE 9 SUSTAINABLE TRAVEL TIPS WILL MAKE SURE YOU HAVE FUN AND STILL DO GOOD BY THE PLANET.
Hawaii is often touted as one of the most beautiful places in the world. With its white sand beaches, lush and rugged coastlines and numerous volcanoes, it is no surprise that people flock to this paradise in droves. In fact, in 2017, almost 10 million people visited the Hawaiian Islands. That is an incredible amount of people when you consider that the islands are home to a population of 1.4 million.
Due to the popularity of the islands, there has been a sharp increase in environmental problems due mostly to overtourism; including, an increase in plastic pollution, a degradation of beaches and a need for more urbanization (which usually leads to habitat loss).
While some of these problems are pretty big and widespread, we still believe that every traveler to Hawaii can do their part to make a positive impact (or at least decrease their negative impact). By making a few simple changes, you can definitely be a more responsible traveler.
Below are 9 ways to be a more sustainable traveler while exploring and adventuring in Hawaii.
9 WAYS TO BE A MORE SUSTAINABLE TRAVELER IN HAWAII
1 | Make Sure You Are Snorkeling Sustainably
Snorkeling is one of the top outdoor adventures throughout Hawaii. The opportunity to interact with marine life - including sea turtles and rays -while gliding above some truly colorful and stunning coral is an opportunity that all travelers should have. But it is important to remember that you are a visitor in these often fragile environments and you need to therefore act with the utmost respect.
By being a responsible snorkeler, you can help prevent damage to the marine environments you are exploring. A few of the key ways you can do this are to:
| Never touch or damage the coral; this includes not stepping on it with your feet or grabbing it with your hands. If it is too shallow or if the water is too rough and you need to take a break, make sure you only touch the regular rock and NOT any coral. Also, watch out for those crazy looking sea urchins - they hurt!
| Never feed or touch the marine life - even if they come really close to you. This is true for all marine life - including fish, eels, turtles and rays. When snorkeling, always keep an eye on your surroundings for you never know when an animal might pop up.
| Never litter or leave any trace of you being there. This should be a no brainer but it is worth saying again: when snorkeling (or doing anything else outside) NEVER litter or leave any items behind. This means you pack out all trash, food and gear with you.
EXPLORE MORE | OUR ULTIMATE TRAVEL GUIDE TO THE BIG ISLAND OF HAWAII
2 | Follow All Rules When Interacting with Marine Life
As mentioned above, it is incredibly important to be aware of your surroundings and to always stay a safe distance from marine life. For many animals, coming in close to the coast means they are either resting (like dolphins) or feeding. By getting too close to them you keep them from doing either - which is dangerous and harmful.
Below is the minimum distance you should stay when around marine wildlife:
| Sea Turtles: 10 feet
| Monk Seals: 50 feet
| Spinner Dolphins: 150 feet
| Humpback Whales: 300 feet
Obviously, this is just a minimum distance and therefore you should instead try to stay even farther away when possible. When out in the water, always stay aware of your surroundings and make sure you are putting enough distance between yourself and any approaching wildlife. This includes some animals that may sneak up on you (like sea turtles). If you find yourself in a situation where you may be getting too close to an animal (maybe even unwittingly due to the tides) then you need to be proactive and focus on getting farther away quickly.
We were once snorkeling in an area with a lot of sea turtles. But due to the extremely bad visibility we were worried we would unknowingly run into one. So instead of risking it, we decided to just get out of the water and view them from the beach (which was still amazing).
LEARN MORE | SNORKELING WITH MANTA RAYS: WHAT TO KNOW & HOW TO DO IT
3 | Always Use Reef Safe Sunscreen
The National Park Service (NPS) estimates that around 6,000 tons of sunscreen enters areas in and around coral reefs every year. Furthermore, studies have shown that the major chemicals in those sunscreens - mainly oxybenzone and octinoxate - are a large contributor to the declining health of coral, mostly through coral bleaching (when coral turns white). This issue has gotten so bad that even a few popular vacation destinations, including Hawaii, have banned the sale of anything but “reef-safe” sunscreen.
The terms “reef-safe” and “reef-friendly” are typically used to identify sunscreens that do not contain those two chemicals that lead to coral bleaching. When coral gets bleached, it is still alive, but it is under severe stress, which then makes it more susceptible to disease and even death.
If you are planning to spend any time in the water while in Hawaii (which obviously you should!) then you will want to make sure you are only using reef-safe sunscreen. Luckily, you can buy it at many stores on the islands - including in dive shops and grocery stores.
OTHER HELPFUL TIPS ON USING REEF-SAFE SUNSCREEN
Mineral-based sunscreens - which use ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium oxide - are not thought to cause coral bleaching. Check the ingredients on sunscreens to make sure they have these two listed.
Likewise, when purchasing a reef-safe sunscreen make sure it is also labeled as "non-nano" - which means the particles in it are larger than 100 nanometers and therefore are less impactful to coral reefs (they are too big to be ingested).
Finally, use a rub-on style of sunscreen instead of the spray style. The spray sunscreens often lead to more sunscreen landing on the sand near you, which in turn, eventually gets washed into the ocean.
💬 INSIDER TIP: if you want to take this idea of helping the coral reefs one step further, then consider just wearing sun-protective clothing instead of sunscreen altogether.
// BUY REEF-SAFE SUNSCREEN: if you don't want to purchase reef-safe sunscreen in-person once you get to Hawaii, then we recommend buying a bottle of sunscreen online from Mad Hippie. All products from this eco-conscious brand are vegan, cruelty-free and benzene-free.