In our ever-expanding world, all of its many wonders seem to exist only an arm’s reach away. Far-flung adventure ideas and remote destinations are now only a few clicks away. If you have the means and desire to travel, you can go just about anywhere.
With global travel opening back up and an increased number of tourists at many sights around the world, there is an ongoing need to protect the wildlands that so many of us love to experience and live to pursue.
Hawaii is one of the top destinations in the world due to its stunning beauty and serene settings. But these same traits that make the islands so alluring also make them fragile to overuse and destruction. Ecotourism is a crucial part of keeping Hawaii protected and pristine for generations to come.
What is Ecotourism?
Ecotourism is the practice of fostering ways to travel that better protect sensitive natural environments while supporting and educating visitors to learn and respect the land. It can be simply stated as sustainable tourism but goes far deeper than that to reflect a commitment by tourists and locals alike to support the natural world and small communities that reside near popular travel destinations.
Ecotourism is more of an ongoing practice and set of principles than any simple definition. And although there is more awareness surrounding the need for this form of enlightened tourism than ever before, it takes the efforts of travelers and small communities across the world to promote the messaging and put necessary practices into action.
It can encompass everything from environmental concerns such as avoiding plastic and leave-no-trace ideals to promoting small local businesses over huge corporate travel companies. It can be as simple as cleaning up a beach or as in-depth as an entire organized association increasing awareness of eco-friendly ideals.
This is all to say that ecotourism is growing and evolving every day. As more people learn about the travel ethics and best practices involved, the regions of the world where it is needed will thank humankind by remaining pristine and beautiful for many more years to come. Without it, we risk destroying some truly magical destinations forever.
Ecotourism in Hawaii
Hawaii is a top destination for adventurers, vacationers, and all other manner of tourists. With world-class beaches, unmatched beauty, and the aloha spirit alive in full, the islands see millions of visitors every year. Over 10 million people visited Hawaii in 2019, with tourists outnumbering residents by around 6 to 1. While 2020 obviously saw these numbers drop significantly, the average number of visitors typically rises 5-10% every year.
While these visitors bring in lots of money to support the local economy, their sheer numbers can significantly impact the natural ecosystem and affect the local communities that have lived here for generations.
Hawaii is unique because it has a wide range of micro-climates that result in a lot of different flora and fauna found nowhere else on earth. You can go from tropical rainforest to high mountain summits with snow (yes, snow) to a desert – all in the same day. This diversity in climate and life is amazing and means that each unique area and animal is always at risk. There are a large number of endangered species on the islands that are threatened by a fragile environment and heavy human impact.
And right alongside the natural wonders found living on the islands, an entire world exists in their bountiful waters. The Hawaiian reefs are an unreal ecosystem all to their own that provide food, shelter, sustenance, and protection for a vast array of marine life. These coral reefs seem boundless and beautiful but are under steady attack from human use and development.
Without proper ecotourism tactics in place, this beauty and natural biodiversity that makes Hawaii such a sought after destination could slowly start to disappear. Luckily, many different groups and organizations are committed to promoting beneficial ecotourism to prevent this from ever happening.
And for Hawaiians, the commitment to protecting the land and sea for future generations is a fact of life and always has been. There are a few phrases you might hear when visiting Hawaii reflect this sacred sentiment:
Malama ka’aina – to care and live in harmony with the land
Malama ke kai – to care and live in harmony with the ocean
These simple words reflect the storied tradition of respect and honor that locals hold for the natural world around them. Even though the tenets of ecotourism are just catching on in the mainstream, they have been a guiding force on the islands ever since humans first arrived here.
If you want to become a more eco-friendly traveler on your visit to Hawaii, you can follow a few simple tips to benefit the natural environment and the amazing people who call the islands home.
- Use reef-safe sunscreen – This tip is one most visitors to Hawaii don’t know about or often respect. If you plan on going in the water, you need to wear reef-safe sunscreen. The chemicals found in regular sunscreens are very harmful to the reefs and can kill them quickly. Reef-safe sunscreen is a little more expensive but an absolute must when swimming or snorkeling.
- Clean Up the Beach – If you come to Hawaii you are going to visit the beach. Always clean up after yourself and make sure not to leave any trash or belongings behind when you leave. Better yet, take a few pieces of trash that aren’t yours to leave the beach better than you found it.
- Support Local Businesses and Eco-Minded Tour Companies – Make sure to support local businesses when you visit. Whether that means a stop at the local bakery, street vendor, or local guide, spending your dollars away from the resort can better distribute resources.
- Clean Your Shoes if You Visit a Farm – This goes for before and after your visit and will prevent seeds and plant-based sickness from spreading across the islands. It seems simple but is an easy way to minimize impact and risk to the plants and animals while you’re here.
Hawaii Ecotourism Resources
If you want to learn more about ecotourism in Hawaii, check out some of these resources. They can help you become better educated or offer direction toward which companies and tours are committed to better practices that will help support the natural wonders of Hawaii for years to come.
- Sustainable Tourism Association of Hawaii – A great resource for learning about the principles and practices of sustainable tourism. Provides many programs and educational materials for visitors and residents alike.
- Hawaii Reef Ocean Coalition – A great resource for more tips on how to enjoy your time in the sea while working towards its preservation. HROC is a collective of businesses, scientists, and non-profits dedicated to protecting the coral reefs through education, advocacy, and Hawaiian ideals.
- Hawaii Green Business Award Winners – Here, you can find a list of businesses that have earned recognition by developing and implementing eco-friendly practices to help preserve natural Hawaii. Supporting a business that supports the environment is a crucial aspect of ecotourism.
Educating yourself about the importance of ecotourism is critical for anyone who wants to visit Hawaii. The islands are an amazing location with an endless amount of adventure and natural beauty to uncover. But without a commitment by every traveler to do their part in respecting and preserving the land and sea here, they will not remain pristine forever.
Ecotourism is a responsible way to experience the wild world around us and of critical importance for all visitors to Hawaii. Many other locations around the globe need special care and attention as well, and it’s our duty as travelers to respect and honor how we can keep these lands alive and thriving while minimizing human impact.