As ocean enthusiasts, we should feel a responsibility to care for the ocean and its inhabitants – and inform others about the important issues that affect this critical part of our planet Earth.  But surfers, divers, paddlers and other ocean recreationists shouldn’t be the leaders in this movement.  We should all be concerned about the damage humans are inflicting on the oceans.  Pollution, sediments and marine debris are pushing our waters and ocean life to unsustainable levels.  Entanglements, digestion, ingestion, effects on coral and the slow change of the chemical balance of the ocean are real issues today.  But our lifestyles are so caught up in everyday life that we forget, are lazy, don’t have the time or energy to do the right thing.  Its hard but something has to change or we pass on bad habits and poor conditions to our children and future generations. In our attempt to make our readers more environmentally aware and conscious, we present the information in four sections – coral, pollution, watershed and marine life.

Marine Life

Many of Hawaii’s marine mammals are protected under the Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protections Acts.  Fines of up to $30,000 and imprisonment of up to 5 years can result from harassing, harming or killing a protected or endangered animal.  To report violations call 541-2727.  To report a mammal in need of help, report entanglement, vessel/whale collision, or stranding call 888-256-9840.  The Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) hotline is 643-3567


Hawaiian Monk Seal

The Hawaiian Monk Seal is endemic to Hawaii and exists nowhere else on Earth.  They are one of only two mammals indigenous to Hawaii’s terrestrial environment.  They grow to 5-7 feet in length and weigh 400-600 pounds; females are slightly larger.  Life expectancy is 25-30 years.  Hawaiian Monk Seals are one of the most endangered animal species in the world with an estimated 1,100 alive today.   Threats include low juvenile survival rates, limited food resources, entanglement in marine debris, sharks, disease, loss of habitat, fishing interactions and human disturbance.

If you see a Monk Seal in the water or taking a break at your favorite beach, the best thing you can do is stay away as far as possible, at least 150 feet.  Please report any monk sightings at 220-7802.  Don’t approach or attempt to play with them or feed them.  Keep your dog on a leash.  If you are a fisherman, please don’t discard scraps and bait, leave the area if you see a Monk Seal, and use barbless hooks.


Humpback Whale

Each year approximately 12,000 Humpback Whales migrate 16,000 miles through Hawaii January through March to mate.  They grow to 40-50 feet long and weigh up to 79,000 pounds.  Females are slightly larger than males.  Males produce a complex song lasting 10 to 20 minutes, which they repeat for hours at a time. Its purpose is not clear, though it may have a role in mating.  It is estimated that 80,000 Humpback Whales are alive.

If you see a Humpback Whale, federal law prohibits getting closer than 300 feet from a vessel, and 1,000 feet from aircraft.  Do not circle around, chase or inhibit the movement of whales; put your engine on neutral and allow the whale to pass.  Keeping the engine running will allow the animal to know your location and avoid collisions.  Avoid excessive speed or sudden changes in speed or direction when in the area of whales.  Limit observation time to 30 minutes or less.  Have a dedicated whale lookout person on your vessel during whale season.  Give all marine life full right of way.


Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle

The Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle is the largest hard-shelled sea turtle and grows to 3-4 feet long and weighs 200-500 pounds.  Green turtles were a source of food, tools, and ornamentation for early Hawaiians. With the arrival of western culture, however, the level of exploitation of this resource increased dramatically. Large numbers of green turtles were harvested throughout the Hawaiian Islands through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1974, the State of Hawaii finally passed a regulation providing some protection, but this was virtually ignored until 1978, when the Hawaiian green turtle was placed on the list of threatened species.  Current threats include entanglement, poaching, harassment, disease, boat strikes and loss of habitat.

If you see a sea turtle in the water or on the beach, stay at least 5-6 feet away.  Turtles are easily distressed by humans.  Do not feed, touch, harass or inhibit movement.  If you see an entangled, stranded or injured sea turtle, or if you see illegal activities call 800-853-1964 or 643-3567.


Spinner Dolphin

Known for the acrobatic behavior, Spinner Dolphins are spotted regularly in Hawaii waters.  After the dolphin leaves the water and is airborne, it can spin 5 times in the air.  They grow up to 4-8 feet long and weigh 50-175 pounds.  They spend the daytime resting in open waters and hunt for food at night.

NOAA’s guidelines state if you are approached by a pod of dolphins you must stop, and remove yourself from the situation so as not to alter their behavior in any way.  Do not approach spinner dolphins.


Fishing and Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s)

MPA’s are regions in which human activity has been placed under some restrictions in the interest of protecting the natural environment, cultural and historic resources. MPA’s heavily regulate fishing to prevent over-fishing by either restricting or banning fishing at certain locations.  The benefits of MPA’s are to protect important habitat and biodiversity, protect intact ecosystems, prevent overuse of public resources, provide refuge for fish to grow larger and produce more offspring, create spillover improving other fish populations and better for recreational uses like snorkeling.  Some of the more well-known MPA’s in Hawaii are Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, Hanauma Bay and Malama Pupukea-Waimea.

Marine Protected Areas

Fish Feeding

Fish feeding has been shown to alter the natural community structure of the reef, and promote habituated, aggressive fish.  Please allow the fish to eat their natural food.  Many of them play an important tole as grazers, keeping algae populations in check.  Fish feeding is illegal in some areas and can result in large fines.  Keep the reef happy and leave the fish food at home.

Trip Advisor about Fish Feeding

Aquatic Invasive Species

Alien marine algae pose a threat by overgrowing living corals and replacing native marine algae, costing Hawaii millions of dollars each year in lost revenue.  They can cause irreversible damage to fragile marine ecosystems and need to be closely monitored.  Collaborative pilot projects are underway to determine if mass removal of algae can return the reef to its natural state, and if the enhacemnt of herbivore populations will reduce invasive algae through increased grazing.  To prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species follow these guidelines.  When snorkeling, diving or fishing, inspect all gear for seaweed fragments before leaving the area; make sure to properly dispose of seaweed fragments at that location.  Dry off all gear before next use.  When boating, inspect the anchor, mooring lines, propellers and bilge for seaweed fragments; discar any fragment that you find at the same site or in the trash before next use.  Keep your hull clean.  Take steps to reduce overfishing and fish feeding, grazing by reef fishes helps keep algae populations in check.  Never dump aquarium animals or plants into streams or coastal waters.  Instead discard with your local fish supply store, donate to a school or dispose in the trash.  To report unusual seaweed blooms call 587-0100.

Aquatic Invasive Species Website

Marine Debris

Our oceans are filled with items that do not belong there. Huge amounts of consumer plastics, metals, rubber, paper, textiles, derelict fishing gear, vessels, and other lost or discarded items enter the marine environment every day, making marine debris one of the most widespread pollution problems facing the world’s oceans and waterways.

Marine debris is defined as any persistent solid material that is manufactured or processed and directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, disposed of or abandoned into the ocean.  It is a global problem. Marine debris is a threat to our environment, navigation safety, the economy and human health.  Marine debris results in habitat destruction, wildlife entanglement, vessel damage, alien species transport, and overall bad aesthetics.

Marine Debris NOAA Website


Most plastics are made from petroleum.  The oil is turned into nurdles (pre-production) plastic pellets or resin) which is then melted and chemicals are added to give the plastic specific qualities such as flexibility, strength and durability.  Everywhere we go plastics are in our lives – food containers, medical, toys, automotive, surfboard accessories, tools – you name it.  But plastics have become so low cost to produce that we are producing more than what our ocean can handle.  It is estimated that only about 5% of all produced plastics are recycled.  Where do the rest go?  Landfills, incinerators and unfortunately to our ocean.  Plastic bags are wreaking havoc on our ocean and sewer systems.  Plastic bag fees, regulations and bans are hot topics in Hawaii.


Single Use Containers

Low cost plastics and other cheap packaging have become the trend for businesses to save money.  Some sit-down restaurants have dropped the dishwasher all together and all used plates and utensils go into the trash.  Styrofoam plate lunch containers are overused and thrown in the trash.  Water bottles, sodas, juices, coffee and most liquids are package in single-use containers.  Single use containers are heavily overused and abused, and our ocean is the victim.  The amount of plastics in the ocean is at alarming rates.  If you want to reduce your use of single-use containers, try the Reduce-Reuse-Recycle principles.  Reduce your consumption and use of single use containers.  Reuse all containers as much as possible.  And recycle all materials at available recycling centers and bottle return centers.

Kokua Hawaii Foundation

Cigarette Butts

In a beach cigarette cleanup about one year ago by Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii of Waikiki Beach, 10,000 cigarettes were picked up in two hours by 100 volunteers.  Another cleanup in Kakaako by Surfrider Foundation Oahu Chapter resulted in 11,500 cigarette butts.  Local residents and environmental groups pushed for better protection of Hawaii’s beaches with a ban on smoking at all beaches in Hawaii.  A smoking ban at many popular beaches went into effect on January 1, 2014.  The new rules prohibit smoking at Duke Kahanamoku Beach Park, Kapiolani Beach Park, Kapiolani Beach Park Center, Kapiolani Park, Kuhio Beach Park, Sandy Beach Park and beach areas of Ala Moana Regional Park.

No Smoke.org

Beach Cleanups

Numerous organizations sponsor and coordinate regular beach clean ups.  Just go to google and search “beach cleanup Hawaii” and start volunteering now!  Surfrider Foundation, Sustainable Coastlines, Waikiki Ohana Workforce and Sierra Club would love you have you show up and pick up some trash, and help make the Earth a better place for our youth and future generations.



Coral reefs are living structures built by countless colonies of tiny animals – coral polyps – each polyp measuring only a few millimeters in diameter.  The reefs support 80,000 known species and scientists estimate that coral reefs are home to 600,000 to 9 million species of organisms.  The reefs are vital to our healthy ecosystem but we are trashing the reefs like drunken sailors.

Hawaii’s coral reefs, which provide resources valued at $10 billion, are threatened by the state’s growing population and thriving tourism industry. Both urban areas and popular tourist destinations are suffering from land-based sources of pollution, marine debris, destructive fishing, recreational overuse, invasive species, sedimentation, acidification and coastal development. Coral bleaching occurs when the conditions necessary to sustain the coral’s zooxanthellae cannot be maintained.  Bleaching is directly or indirectly caused by many factors including over fishing, change in water temperatures, increased solar radiance, sedimentation from runoff, herbicides and some common sunscreen ingredients.


Businesses and Coral

Businesses are a large part of the destruction of our coral.  You can help.  Choose resorts that engage in energy conversation, smart trash management, and responsible sewage and solid waste practices.  Choose coral friendly dive operations that use moorings.  A few seafood menu items are obtained using destructive practices like reef-killing poisons, explosives and illegal equipment.  Some tropical wood furniture and other wood products are obtained from clear-cut tropical forests causing siltation damage to coral reefs.  Go to www.coral.org and learn about their CORAL Reef Leadership Network.

Hawaii Hotel Reef Stewardship Project

Consumer Tips for Coral

Choose exit and entry areas to limit contact with the reef.  Don’t touch anything as much as possible.  Learn how to maneuver in the water and avoid contacting other objects.  Take nothing.  Leave nothing.  Don’t buy coral souvenirs.  Make sure all of your equipment is secured and accounted for.  Report damage to dive operators and conversation groups to DLNR at 643-3567.  Use sunscreen responsibly.  Don’t cake it on then jump I the ocean.  Try a shirt or rash guard instead.  Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going in the ocean.

DLNR Website


A watershed is an area of land, such as a mountain or valley, which collects rainwater into the ocean.  Some of the rain is absorbed by plants, some of it is absorbed underground, and the rest flows into surface rivers and streams. A critical component of a watershed’s ability to collect rainwater is the existence of forests. Fog condensing on trees high up in watershed areas can increase rainfall collection and absorption by as much as 30% annually.  Watershed is crucial element in our ecosystem by recharging our water supply, protecting oceans like a filter, mitigating flooding, providing habitat to Hawaii’s unique plants and animals, providing recreational places, and protecting public health by providing clean air and water.

Hoofed animals such as cattle, pigs, goats, sheep, deer destroy forest vegetation leaving grounds bare and soils exposed.  Invasive weed species can take over a native forest and impact its efficacy in water collection, wildfires, and forest pests and disease, all of which impact forest health and functionality.  Irresponsible developing and farming can lead to large amounts of soil and contaminates in the ocean. General pollution gets into the watershed and ends up in the ocean.

Hawaii Association of Watershed Partners

Here are some tips you can follow to reduce your impact.

Do not use your water hose to clean off driveway, lanais, sidewalks.  Do not dump household and automotive fluids.  For information about best disposal practices, call 692-5411 or 768-3201.  Use less herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers in gardens and landscaping.  Put grass clipping and tree trimmings in trash.  Use best management practices (BMP’s) in business, development construction.  Sponsor an Adopt a stream program by calling 527-5091.  Volunteer for ‘Dump No Waste Goes To Ocean’ stenciling project at 527-5091.  Wash your car so the water goes into the grass, not the storm drains.  No phosphate cleaners.  Use commercial car washes where the waste water is properly disposed.  Pick up your pet’s waste.  Report dead animals at 832-7840.  If you have any concerns or want to report illegal activities, call 768-3300 or 768-3423.

Learn more!

Surfrider Foundation Oahu