Green Travel Magzine

How to be a Responsible Traveler in Hawaii

Sustainability has been a meaningful part of Hawaiian culture for centuries. In fact, one of the core values of the Ancient Hawaiians was a concept called Malama ‘Aina – meaning “take care of the land.” To continue this legacy of the Ancient Hawaiians, there are specific things tourists and locals alike can do to protect Hawaii’s ecosystem. Here’s our mini sustainability guide to Hawaii:

Don’t touch the wildlife

One of the most exciting things you can tick off your Hawaii bucket list is snorkeling among the diverse wildlife. On a typical day in the water, you can see Hawaiian green sea turtles (aka honu), a variety of colorful fish, and even spinner dolphins in the distance if you’re lucky! It can be tempting to reach out your hand and touch the wildlife, but it’s important not to come in contact with anything alive in the ocean. The oils and bacteria on your skin can be extremely harmful to ocean wildlife, damaging the protective layer on their bodies that they need to fend off diseases. This also includes the coral reef. Coral protects itself with a mucus layer (just like us humans have), and touching it damages this protective guard. Under stress from human contact, corals can bleach – a harmful process that can lead to their death. Hawaii’s ocean ecosystem depends on coral to survive much like we need trees to survive. Touching wildlife can even be illegal and come with a hefty fine in certain cases. Sea turtles are protected by the Endangered Species Act – you can receive up to a $10,500 fine for touching them, or as the state rightfully calls it – harassing them.

Use reef-safe sunscreen

In 2018, Hawaii became the first state to ban the sale of sunscreen with two chemicals that harm the coral reef: oxybenzone and octinoxate. These two ingredients contribute to coral bleaching, which we already learned is detrimental to Hawaii’s ocean ecosystem. Avoid popular sunscreen brands like Coppertone, Hawaiian Tropic, and Banana Boat – their products still contain the ingredients. Here is a list of our favorite reef-safe sunscreen brands that are made in Hawaii:

Kokua Sun Care

Raw Love

Little Hands Hawaii

hawaii natural waterfall on a cloudy day
Source: Alli Carone

Leave the land better than you found it

This one should go without saying, but make sure you properly dispose of all waste you create. It’s also a great idea to bring along a bag when you’re on outdoor adventures – this way, you can pick up others’ trash that you find along the way. You could save the life of a turtle, fish, seabird, or other coastal animal by properly removing litter.

Join a beach cleanup

Keeping Hawaii’s beautiful landscapes clean leads us to our next tip – join a beach cleanup during your visit! It’s a great way to give back, plus you’re sure to make connections with a fun eco-conscious group of people.

These awesome non-profit organizations coordinate beach cleanups several times per month:

Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii

Surfrider Foundation

808 Cleanups

Shop and dine local

Hawaii has a diverse array of local shops and restaurants for an authentic and sustainable way to spend locally.

Hilo Hattie is the one-stop-shop for made in Hawaii souvenirs with locations across all the major Hawaiian islands. You can find all the classics here like authentic Hawaiian shirts and other island-inspired clothing, macadamia nuts, koa wood products, and more.

To support local food establishments (and satisfy your tastebuds): head to Foodland for the state’s famous poke dish, Roy’s for a more upscale dining experience, and food trucks + farmer’s markets for always fresh, local ingredients.

Ditch single-use plastic

Add reusable water bottles, bags, straws, forks, knives, chopsticks, and your other items of choice to your packing list for Hawaii! The single-use plastic counterparts to these items are some of the most common things to end up in the ocean. This is a small but effective way to reduce your environmental impact during a Hawaii trip.

Stop the spread of invasive species

A few careful precautions can help stop the spread of invasive species in Hawaii, which threaten the ecosystem of our indigenous species.

You should always stay on the designated hiking trail for safety’s sake – but doing so also prevents the spread of seeds and leaves that cling to your shoes.

It’s also a good idea to wash off the mud and dirt from your shoes after spending time in nature so you don’t bring along the seeds next time you head outdoors.

beautiful hawaii coastline
Source: Alli Carone

Hawaii’s lush ecosystem – its vibrant ocean, tropical landscapes, and 1,000+ native species – is exactly what makes it such a special place to visit. Practicing these sustainable tips for visiting Hawaii will help keep it as an abundant paradise for generations to come.

ecomadic is a sustainable tourism brand that empowers travelers to make more conscious decisions. By curating a marketplace to easily find and identify responsible businesses to support, and providing educational publications through our online green travel magazine, ecomadic is committed to helping empower travelers make responsible choices throughout their journeys.


Alli Carone
Allison is the photographer and storyteller behind AlliRoundtheWorld - a travel blog with a mission to empower women with inspiration and information to travel solo. She currently lives between Hawaii and Amsterdam, slowing ticking experiences off her never-ending bucket list.