Waiehu Beach is known as one of the dirtiest beaches on Maui. Due to the direction it faces, trash continuously washes up on shore. Especially micro plastics. Micro plastics are generally the size of a penny or smaller. Our volunteers managed to get 5 bags full of trash raining in size from micro plastic to large fishing nets which had to be cut free.
"Ecotourism" has become a buzz word in the realm of global travel.
It seems that everywhere you look, "sustainable," "green," and "eco-friendly" operators have begun to flourish with abundance, and when performed properly, this is a fantastic trend. Not only is it imperative to raise awareness about protecting native resources, but it's also inspiring to watch our younger generations learn the values of sustainable travel.
But what does "ecotourism" actually mean, and how do you know when a tour operator is living up to the name? While we can't speak for the rest of the world, Hawaii is fortunate to have the Hawaii Ecotourism Association to provide a guiding light.
Founded in 1995, the HEA's mission statement is "to protect Hawaii's unique natural environment and host culture through the promotion of responsible travel and educational programs relating to sustainable tourism for residents, businesses, and visitors."
One of the ways of doing this is through the creation of a rigorous certification program that establishes the steps a tour operator needs to take in order to be a certified eco-tour.
At the outset of the HEA certification process, Trilogy was classified as a Gold member in the uppermost tier of operators, and as of 2014, is one of 16 operators statewide to be classified as a certified eco-tour. Trilogy has also been listed as a certified tour operator since 2011, and outside of the title and the certification status, the steps that are needed to be a certified operator are simply the right thing to do.
So what are the criteria for becoming certified as an eco-tour operator by the Hawaii Ecotourism Association?
The HEA has a full checklist that operators must be able to complete, and as you can see from reading the full list, the requirements are not only comprehensive, but they cover all bases for establishing criteria of what ecotourism really means.
To begin with, certified operators must have a written sustainability commitment that they adhere to in all of their tours. Not only must this exist on paper, but all crew members, captains, tour guides, and representatives must espouse these values and educate guests during daily visitor operations.
Education has always been central to Trilogy's rapport with our guests, and we consider it our privilege to be able to educate so many visitors about the beauty of our Hawaiian Islands.
On our Molokini snorkeling tours, for example, this means explaining to guests how 25% of our fish species are endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, and suggesting ways we can have a minimal impact when entering their sensitive environment. Or, on any of our snorkeling tours in Maui, educating guests about Hawaiian history and the cultural, historic, and environmental significance of everywhere we visit on our tours.
Another component of the certification progress is maintaining marketing integrity, which means any images that disrespect nature or make inaccurate cultural references will not be used in any marketing material. For snorkeling tours in Maui, this might include images of swimming with dolphins, touching turtles, handling marine life, or making inaccurate reference to snorkeling locations or sites. As a general rule, if a company calls itself an eco tour, yet handles marine life, picks up sea urchins, or prods octopus out of their holes, it isn't doing a very good job or representing the "eco tour" name.
When it comes to culture, one of the easiest ways to perpetuate local culture is simply to use proper place names. When speaking about the peaks of West Maui, for example, referring to the mountain as "Mauna Kahalawai"—a name which translates to "the gathering of the waters"—is better than using the introduced phrase of simply "The West Maui Mountains." Or, on snorkeling tours to Lana‘i, relaying the legend of Pu‘u Pehe is a more appropriate tribute to the offshore sea stack than the legend of "Sweetheart Rock." Lastly, referring to a place as "turtle town," for example, isn't as culturally accurate as calling the place by its proper name of "Nahuna."
In addition to the HEA certification goals, Trilogy is also a proud member of the Dolphin SMART campaign that aims to give accurate representation of human interaction with dolphins. Our loved Hawaiian spinner dolphins are mostly at rest during the day, and human interaction can often wake them from much needed daytime sleep.
Also required for certification are strong efforts towards environmental conservation and sustaining the local community. Trilogy's Blue‘Aina program conducts around 20 reef cleanups annually, and in 2013 helped raise $17,000 for cultural and environmental non-profits.
Outside of Blue‘Aina, supporting programs such as the Maunalei Ahupua‘a Lawai‘a Camp help educate children about sustainable fishing practices and traditional methods of harvest. The concept of stewardship is central to the traditional culture here in Hawaii, in that our role here on Earth is to care for the land which ultimately gives us life. The land, the sea, and all of its resources are what our economy and livelihood depend on, and it's imperative to first protect these resources for a healthy and sustainable future.
We'll be the first to admit, however, that the sustainable, responsible course of action isn't always the easiest way. Retrofitting all of our boats, for example, to accommodate for shore-based pump out stations, is a lot more difficult than simply dumping boat waste out at sea. With that said, it's without question the right thing to do, and it's our hope to be leaders in the continued charge towards protecting the resources around us.
Over the course of Trilogy's 40 year history, it's been inspiring to watch as the Cultural Renaissance has revived an interest in cultural accuracy, and the environmental awakening towards sustainability continues to increase every year. Mahalo to all of the certified operators for their efforts towards protecting these islands, and a special thanks to the Hawaii Ecotourism Association for promoting ecological success.
Do you have ideas about sustainability or preserving heritage in Hawaii? Leave your thoughts in the comments below about ways we can continue to grow.
When most people daydream about snorkeling in Maui, their minds are filled with visions of sea turtles and schools of tropical fish. Imagine floating effortlessly in the warm waters of the Pacific, where the rainbow of colors in the marine environment—deep reds of slate pencil urchins, cobalt blue water, and brilliant yellow tang fish—combine to create a Hawaiian kaleidoscope of marine biodiversity.
The truth, however, is that Maui has a problem that is simply too big to ignore:
Maui's reefs are dying. Fast. And it's time to start acting now.
As part of a joint workshop with the CORAL Reef Alliance, Trilogy recently hosted a sail with many of the island's top decision makers to address the issues facing our reefs. While some Maui reefs such as Olowalu and Molokini are currently at healthy levels, other island reefs such as Honolua Bay are experiencing a rapid rate of decline. At Kahekili Beach Park in northern Ka'anapali, the reef has lost over 50% of its coral growth over the last 20 years alone. Ma'alaea Bay—a reef once teeming with life and abuzz with the colors of the ocean—is now almost completely dead due to algal growth and disease.
Given Trilogy's commitment to our reefs, this is an occurrence which is as unacceptable as it is a cause for concern, so when we were approached by the CORAL Reef Alliance with the opportunity to host a "floating workshop" on reef health, we jumped at the opportunity.
Joining us on board for the workshop were Maui County Councilmembers Elle Cochran, Don Couch, Mike Victorino, and Hawaii State Senator Roz Baker. Also aboard were Liz Foote and Wes Crile of the CORAL Reef Alliance, Professor Darla White of the Division of Aquatic Resources, Tova Callender of the West Maui Ridge to Reef Initiative, DLNR Chair William Aila, Dr. Mark Deakos of the Hawaii Association for Marine Education and Research, Rob Parsons from the Office of the Mayor's Environmental Planning Department, and Jim Coon, charter member of the Sanctuary Advisory Council, Hawaiian Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, Marine and Coastal Advisory Council, and Ocean Resources Management Plan working group.
Rounding out the "Who's Who" of island influencers were everyone from land developers looking to learn about the problem of reef degradation, to representatives from Honua Kai and The Fairmont Kea Lani—two resorts that graciously sponsored our Blue'aina reef and beach cleanups.
At the heart of the issue is this: We need to address what's happening to our island reefs, we need to understand how it has happened, and we need to work with the public and legislators to ensure that it doesn't continue.
The first stop of the floating workshop was the reef at Olowalu. This massive reef structure south of Lahaina is over 1,000 acres in size, and has corals which are over 500 years old. More importantly, the reef at Olowalu has been determined to be a "Mother Reef" for much of Maui County, which means that when the the corals at Olowalu spawn, the resulting corals which are created from the spawn end up on Maui, Moloka'i, and Lana'i.
To put it another way, the large corals at Olowalu actually give birth to coral reefs which grow on other islands.
To help protect this vital marine habitat, visiting charter boats tie up to moorings to avoid anchoring on the coral. This area along West Maui is also home to the largest known population of manta rays found anywhere in the state of Hawaii, and Hawaiian green sea turtles and Hawaiian Monk Seals can often be spotted in the area.
The problem, however, is that potential development in the hills above Olowalu could have dire consequences for the Olowalu reef. Aside from the coral polyps being suffocated by runoff, outside nutrients and non-natural chemicals can lead to algae growth which degrades the reef.
This problem was summed up by Professor Darla White, who stated that "Algae grows really fast, and coral grows really slow...it's a very delicate process out there."
So just how slowly does coral grow? Some of the large mound corals at Olowalu will only grow between 1.1-1.9 cm per year, which is slower than the movement of tectonic plates and slower than your fingernails grow!
After enjoying the waters at Olowalu, the workshop turned the bow of the boat northwards to the golden shorelines of Kahekili Beach Park. This large reef in Ka'anapali has been at the center of Maui controversy because of injection wells that seep harmful wastewater from the land into the reef.
This nutrient-laden wastewater has contributed to algal blooms which have smothered nearly half of the beach's live coral, and as it turns out, only 48 hours after the floating workshop, the County of Maui was found to have violated the Clean Water Act and now faces millions of dollars in penalties for allowing the wells to damage the sensitive reefs.
For as gloomy as this seems, however, the good news is there is hope for Maui's reefs if they are managed in a sustainable way.
According to Wes Crile, a Hawaii Field Manager for the CORAL Reef Alliance, there are a number of ways that Maui landowners Maui can mitigate the effects of runoff. One of those solutions is called Pervious Pavement, wherein rainwater or runoff from sprinklers is allowed to soak through pavement as opposed to rushing down the hillside and out onto the reef. Another solution is rain gardens, which help to reduce runoff by harnessing water through natural plants and landscapes. "What's interesting," says Crile, "is that all this stuff that's bad for the reef is actually really good for your plants."Also, thanks to efforts of programs such as the Ka'anapali Makai Watch, the population of parrotfish—which help graze algae from reefs—has shown a meaningful increase over the last few years thanks to fishing regulations and monitoring.
The future of our reefs is now dependent on our continued commitment to sustainable development and creating innovative methods to protect our waters. A mere 1% of the reefs in the Main Hawaiian Islands are currently protected as marine reserves, whereas other Pacific region--such as Micronesia--are aiming to protect over 30 percent of their reefs by the year 2020.
Given our love of snorkeling in Maui and as an Ecotour certified company through the Hawaii Ecotourism Association, Trilogy champions the efforts of the CORAL Reef Alliance towards working to save our reefs. This paramount, apolitical issue is one which visitors, residents, and decision-makers can agree is in the best interest of our island, and mahalo to all of the coordinators and attendees who made this event a success.
Leave us a note in the comments below with more ways to protect our island reefs!
It's no secret that the island of Lana‘i has been in the national spotlight lately. Ever since Larry Ellison purchased 98% of the island in June 2012, there has been a lot of talk about the future of Lana‘i and the direction the island will take.
On an empty shoreline on the "backside" of Lana‘i, however, it seems that the core of the island's future is standing right here beside us. As part of the Maunalei Ahupua‘a Lawai‘a Camp, over two dozen youth from the island of Lana‘i have come here for the weekend to become stewards of the land. Over the course of the three-day camp, students who range from 10-15 years old will help to plant trees to stop erosion and learn about ways to become sustainable fishers. For the snorkeling and ocean portion of the event, Trilogy was proud to provide the students with snorkeling equipment and supplies, as well as send a couple of crew to help out with the camp activities.
Whereas our snorkeling tours to Lana‘i visit the southwestern coastline by Hulopo‘e, if you've ever explored Lana'i by Jeep then you might have passed by Maunalei. This deep gulch on the northeastern side of the island was once home to a short-lived sugar plantation, and it's not far from the town of Keomoku which was the island's population center in the early 1900's. Offshore from Maunalei, a fringing reef runs along the northeastern coastline and houses a lagoon of limu, and these varieties of seaweed are also accompanied by numerous ocean critters and fish.
In the days of ancient Hawai‘i, this shallow lagoon was healthy and clear and free from run-off or sediment. The residents of Lana‘i would sustain themselves on the bounty which was found along the reef, and the uplands above the shoreline housed a healthy population of native and introduced plants. Over the last century, however, introduced mammals such as deer and sheep have wreaked havoc on the higher slopes, and with fewer plants to block all of the rains the area has become susceptible to runoff. Each year, during strong winter storms, the thick red dirt on the upper slopes comes cascading down towards the shoreline. With little vegetation in the way to stop it, all of the sediment runs out to the reef and settles on the corals and critters.
Not only do the added amounts of runoff suffocate the polyps on the corals, but it makes it harder to harvest the limu which isused in a sustainable diet. More importantly, it's all too natural for complacency and difficulty to serve as unfortunate bedfellows, and if it becomes too difficult to access the reef then fishermen might simply stop trying. On an island where it's important to perpetuate the culture for future Lana‘i generations, the work to protect Maunalei is done both for the environment as well as the health of the culture.
To combat the runoff, the group has taken to constructing a series of gabions which are made from branches of kiawe trees. Held in place with large metal spikes, the "dams" are created as a natural filter for water streaming down through the valley. When the winter rains come barreling down the valley and bring with them heavy red dirt, the kiawe wood barriers will capture the dirt and allow the natural fresh water to flow through. While it might seem like just a drop in the bucket to an island-wide problem of erosion, it's an important first step in raising awareness about protecting the health of the reef.
Perhaps most importantly, however, the aim of the camp is to help educate students that the land and the ocean are intrinsically mixed. In a concept encompassing both mauka (towards the mountain) and makai (towards the sea) the health of the reef and the life that it brings all begins on the slopes of the mountain. If we don't do our part to protect the mountain, and to care for the land that rises from the sea, then we are spinning our wheels in thinking that we can ever enact a meaningful change along the shoreline.
Watching the children perform limu presses with seaweed gathered from the lagoon, it's a poignant reminder that the Earth provides us with so much more than food. The two-hours spent gathering the limu served as the student's recreation, and it teaches them values of teamwork and togetherness and communing with nature around you.
From helping to protect the island's resources to learning the traditions of their ancestors, the Maunalei Ahupua‘a Lawai‘a camp is an investment in the future of Lana‘i. Trilogy is proud to have played a role in the success of this three-day camp, and we offer a big "mahalo" to Sol Kaho‘ohalahala and his dedicated volunteers for educating the island's youth.
Having sailed the waters of Maui and Lana'i since 1973, Trilogy feels blessed and very fortunate to call these islands our home. We also feel a responsibility to protect and care for these oceans, and this includes the various marine creatures who share the waters with our boats.
Given our commitment to local marine life, Trilogy is proud to be a member of the Dolphin SMART program which is administered by the National Marine Sanctuary. Trilogy is the first member of the Maui charter boat community to follow the Dolphin SMART guidelines, and photos which you find on our website and social media channels adhere to the following conditions:
- This photo(video) was taken while viewing from a responsible distance. The (dolphin(s), whale(s)) in this photo(video) approached the boat while the engines were in neutral or off.
- We view wild dolphins and whales from a responsible distance to avoid any harassment or disturbance to their natural behaviors. Our photos (videos) that show dolphins and whales near the boat were taken after they approached the boat with the engines in neutral or off.
- Dolphins are often seen riding the bows of the vessels. Any photo depicting dolphins off the bow of the boat was taken when the dolphins approached our vessel to bowride, and the behavior was not elicited by the vessel’s actions.
Mahalo again for your interest in our environment, and feel free to contact us by leaving a comment below.