How Tourists Can Help Save Hawaii’s Vulnerable Waterways

hawaii volunteering

Photo via Carissa Gan/Unsplash.

By Dusty Loffarelli of the nonprofit Travel2change

Be it uber touristy or nature’s exotic, most agree Hawaii’s not shy when it comes to its good looks.

While gorgeous wildlife is the bling of island bliss, there may be trouble growing in paradise, literally.
In the world’s most remote archipelago invasive plants are overtaking native flora at a far faster rate than locals can handle. Sure, cinnamon trees and ginger roots may sound agreeable; but they were brought from distant lands and planted 100 years ago during the era of plantations. Abandoned without cultivation, they’ve grown amok in the Pali hillsides destroying native ohia, koa and hibiscus.

The island waterways are just as vulnerable. Historically, streams flowed over natural earth that absorbed much of the runoff; however, with increasing development nearly all are lined with concrete and materials depositing pollutants in the ocean.

hawaii volunteering

Maunalua Bay via Heather Harvey/flickr

Trouble At Maunalua Bay

The effects can be seen at Maunalua Bay, a seven-mile stretch of shoreline between Diamond Head Crater and the prestigious neighborhood Hawaii Kai. As you drive this famed expanse of million dollar homes huge patches of sludge are evident in shallow waters. Clogged by non-native algae, residents started noticing it in the last decade and dubbed it mud-weed. The reality: the algae retains dirt and trash and damages coral reef systems. Moreover, it’s overtaken native sea plants that local fish and turtles depend on.

The only remedy is to collect it by hand, a task often left to a meager number of school kids in need of community service hours.

There's trouble in #Hawaii's paradise. Here's how you can #volunteer and help! #travelgood Click To Tweet

What’s Being Done

Small-scale restoration projects are all over Oahu, but most lack the people-power to be effective. These include works in areas that tourists frequent such as Waimea Valley with its famous waterfall, the Jurassic Park film location of Kualoa Ranch, and the beautiful Mānoa Falls and cliff trails, not far from the buzz of Waikiki.

Most organizations are turning to visitors — who outnumber locals by more than six to one — for help. Traditional voluntourism models attempt to find travelers willing to dedicate their whole vacation to help a single cause. The problem: these efforts attract those intrinsically inclined to volunteer anyway, rather than intrepid vacationers who might be willing to lend a hand if only they knew where to sign up. Moreover, some agencies who organize packages on behalf of project organizers have fallen under criticism for inefficient use of money, or even profiting off the backs of charities and donors.

hawaii volunteering

Volunteering helping to save Hawaii’s beautiful landscapes. Photo via Travel2change.

Hawaii Volunteering

As a result a new method is being promoted listing volunteer opportunities in the same way tourist activities are. For example Travel2change, a nonprofit for which I am the Treasurer and a Board Member, is doing this. Serving as an online web platform, the organization connects travelers and locals around meaningful activities that tend to be as fun as they are compelling. By partnering with groups that need volunteers, Travel2change can showcase hands on, authentic experiences that directly give back to Hawaii.

The key is that none of these feats require a long-term commitment. All those listed on their site are limited to just a few hours for only the day you sign up, and most are free, making it a good fit for travel itineraries. Some even include bonuses for helping such as kayaks, paddle boards, snorkeling gear or guided hikes and food to help make the experience well-rounded and memorable.

For many laying on Hawaii’s legendary beaches, the sun will go down just as easy as the last Mai Tai. Others will look up into the cliffs or out to sea, and toast the real meaning of Aloha.

Here's how you can #volunteer in #Hawaii and make a difference! #travelgood Click To Tweet

Have you ever partaken in Hawaii volunteering? Please share your experience in the comments below!


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Jessica Festa

Jessica Festa is the editor of Epicure & Culture as well as Jessie on a Journey. She enjoys getting lost in new cities and having experiences you don’t read about in guidebooks. Some of her favorite travel experiences have been teaching English in Thailand, trekking her way through South America, backpacking Europe solo, road tripping through Australia, agritouring through Tuscany, and volunteering in Ghana.

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