Eco Tourism is the driving force spearheading tours and activities in Hawaii’s future.

Oct 12, 2020 | General Information

Sustainable Tourism is defined by the United Nations World Tourism Organization as tourism that takes into account its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts. It addresses the needs of visitors, the travel industry, the environment and host communities. For Hawaii, that means maximizing benefits to Hawaii’s communities and businesses while respecting, preserving and enhancing Hawaii’s natural, cultural and human assets.

The State of Hawaii has established several excellent stewardship programs to protect the environments of the islands. These range from Soil and Water Conservation Districts to Watershed Reserves. In surrounding ocean environments, the State has created Marine Life Conservation Districts, Fishery Management Areas, Fishery Replenishment Areas, and Estuary Reserves.

Hawaii’s commitment to sustainability on land and in the ocean partly is in response to the growing interest of travelers to make only minimal impacts on their travel destinations. Recent surveys show that nearly three-quarters of travelers believe that all travelers need to make sustainable travel choices in order to protect the planet. A great many people surveyed said that they planned to engage in ecofriendly vacation activities. Hawaii’s tour operators are introducing new options to meet these demands for vacation experiences that consider environmental impacts.

For tourism in the Hawaiian Islands, with their fragile ecosystems, nothing could be more important. Hawaii has the highest number of endangered and threatened native plant and animal species of any place on the planet. Native Hawaiians and locals all support the idea of malama aina — to care for the land. Each Hawaiian island offers many different ways that visitors can learn about land and marine environments and have eco-tourism experiences. There are a variety of farm and agricultural tours, botanical gardens, museums and more that provide learning experiences about Hawaii’s unique land and marine environments.

For example: Kauai has a working coffee plantation and some of Hawaii’s largest botanical gardens. On Oahu, native Hawaiian plants and flowers flourish in five sites in Honolulu Botanical Gardens. On Lanai the Kanepuu Preserve features 48 species of endemic Hawaiian plants that are protected by the Nature Conservancy. On Maui a drive to Upcountry Maui reveals fields of sweet lavender and vibrant protea in Kula and indigenous plants in the Kula Botanical Garden. On Molokai the Nature Conservancy has two sites: the Moomomi Preserve on the northwest coast and the Kamakou Preserve in the mountainous rainforests to the east. On the Big Island, the Hawaii Wildlife Center’s Hoopulauma Science and Discovery Center is not to be missed.

The Hawaiian Islands have a vast and unique coral reef system – “the rainforest of the sea” – that feeds, shelters and provides habitats for more than 7,000 known species of marine plants and animals. More than 25 percent are endemic to the Islands. A Presidential Executive Order in 2000 created the Northwestern Hawaiian Island Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve. This protected area encompasses 84 million acres of ocean. More than 500 species of algae are found in Hawaiian coastal waters. Algae not only provide a vital food sources for the ocean’s marine life, they also are important for human life. Algae produce an enormous amount of oxygen — more than all land plants in the world combined.

Visitors to Hawaii have a number of very worthwhile ways to learn about Hawaii’s ocean environment. The Waikiki Aquarium is a major attraction on Oahu that simply doesn’t get enough attention and should be added to every traveler’s itinerary. Established in 1904, the aquarium is the second-oldest public aquarium in the U.S. It houses invertebrates, fish, reptiles, marine mammals, butterfly fish, frogfish, parrotfish, sharks, rays, turtles, sea snakes, Hawaiian Monk Seals and much more. On Maui, the Maui Ocean Center houses the nation’s largest tropical reef aquarium along with hundreds of marine animals.

Obviously, there is a great deal for anyone to learn about Hawaii’s land and marine ecosystem. One of the best ways for travel agents and advisors to learn and support sustainability efforts in Hawaii is to join the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s new Hawaii Destination Specialist Program. This free self-guided and self-paced program is designed to deliver in-depth knowledge and insights about the Hawaiian Islands. It also includes many ways to promote Hawaiian Island vacations that support sustainability. Almost all of the videos produced here at Tom Barefoot’s Tours also essentially serve the same purposes.