The ocean is Hawaii’s most important natural resource. Did you know that more than a quarter of the sea life here is found nowhere else on the planet? For all of us, it’s important to practice the ancient Hawaiian tradition: Malama kai, meaning to take care of our fragile ocean environment.
Remember when enjoying the sea, here or anywhere on the planet: Surf, Swim and See, but don’t touch. The coral reef is a complex living community supporting countless species, please don’t touch the coral, or touch the animals or plants surrounding it.
Why is Hawaii’s Ocean Important?
Click here for a free printable Keiki Ocean Care Activity Handbook
Here are some basic guidelines:
Learn before you go. Read about the wildlife, viewing sites and local regulations to get the most from your wildlife viewing experience. Many species live only in specific habitats such as estuaries, coral reefs, or the open ocean. Seasonal and daily cycles also influence when and where an animal may be located. Research on the internet, buy guidebooks, talk with locals and or hire local guides to increase your chances of seeing marine wildlife.
Keep your distance. Use binoculars, spotting scopes and cameras with zoom lenses to get a closer look. Marine wildlife are very sensitive to human disturbance, and if cornered, they can harm the viewer or leave the area. If wildlife approaches you, stay calm and slowly back away or stay quiet and still. When closer encounters occur, do not make sudden moves or obstruct the travel path of the animals – let them have the unhindered “right of way.”
Hands off. Never touch, handle or ride marine wildlife. Touching wildlife, or attempting to do so, can injure the animal, put you at risk and may also be illegal for certain species. The slimy coating on fish and many marine invertebrates protects the animal from infection and is easily rubbed off with a hand, glove or foot. Avoid using gloves when diving or snorkeling to minimize the temptation to touch. Remember, wild animals may bite, body slam or even pull you underwater if startled or threatened.
Do not feed or attract marine wildlife. Feeding or attempting to attract wildlife with food, decoys, sound or light disrupts normal feeding cycles, may cause sickness or death from unnatural or contaminated food items, and habituates animals to people. Habituated animals are vulnerable to vessel strikes or vandalism, and can be dangerous to people.
Never chase or harass wildlife. Following a wild animal that is trying to escape is dangerous. Never completely surround the animal, trap an animal between a vessel and shore, block its escape route, or come between mother and young. When viewing from a boat, operate at slow speed, move parallel to the swimming animals, and avoid approaching head-on or from behind, and separating individuals from a group. If you are operating a non-motorized vessel, emit periodic noise to make wildlife aware of your presence and avoid surprise.
Stay away from wildlife that appears abandoned or sick.. Some marine animals such as seals, leave the water or are exposed at low tide as part of their natural life cycle — there may be nothing wrong with them. Young animals that appear to be orphaned may actually be under the watchful eye of a nearby parent. An animal that is sick or injured is already vulnerable and may be more likely to bite. If you think an animal is in trouble, contact the local authorities for advice.
Wildlife and pets don’t mix. Wild animals can injure and spread diseases to pets, and in turn, pets can harm and disturb wildlife. For example, wild animals recognize dogs as predators and quickly flee when they see or smell dogs. If you have a pet, always keep them on a leash and away from areas frequented by marine wildlife.
Lend a hand with trash removal. Human garbage is one of the greatest threats to marine wildlife. Carry a trash bag with you and pick up litter found along the shore and in the water. Plastic bags, floating debris and monofilament line pose the greatest risk to wildlife.
Help others to become responsible wildlife watchers and tour operators. Speak up if you notice other viewers or tour operators behaving in a way that disturbs the wildlife or other viewers, or impacts sensitive habitats. Be friendly, respectful and discrete when approaching others. Violations of the law should be reported to local authorities.
NOAA’s Office of Protected Resources works to conserve, protect, and recover species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) in conjunction with our Regional Offices, Science Centers, and various partners.
- Reefs at risk: Roundup at the not-so-OK coral corral (scientificamerican.com)
- Sun Cream Harms Coral Reefs (simplyscuba.com)
- Protect corals with reef networks, U.N. study says (reuters.com)
- Hawai’i leads way on World Oceans Day (sfgate.com)
- Mass Coral Killing Caused By Climbing Ocean Temperatures (treehugger.com)