Pono Practices: Jim Coon- An Environmental Pioneer for Maui’s Reefs
Conservation with Kelly! By Kelly Montenero, Marine Education and Conservation Director, Trilogy Excursions
It’s not easy for anyone to brag about himself or herself. It makes us feel uncomfortable and sometimes it’s hard to have the right perspective when looking back on our own achievements. That’s why I was interested in learning the back-story of Jim Coon, one of Trilogy’s co- founders and a pioneer of ecotourism and pono boating in Hawai’i. My name is Kelly Montenero, and I am Trilogy’s Marine Conservation and Education Director. It’s not my first “rodeo” assessing ecotourism initiatives and ocean resource policy work- I’ve worked for a number of ecotourism operations, research associations, governmental and non-governmental marine conservation organizations, and studied Marine Affairs and Policy in graduate school, at one of the top 10 marine science universities in the world. I was so excited to work for Trilogy Excursions, as I knew the company’s long history and commitment to our ocean resources here on Maui, and knew that the company had long been involved in community service and forward- thinking environmental initiatives, from establishing a mooring system at snorkel sites, to pumping out septic waste in land based facilities, to being the first tour operator on Maui certified in Hawai’i Ecotourism Association and NOAA’s Dolphin SMART program, to starting and sponsoring the Blue ‘Aina reef clean up campaign. Working in my current role has motivated me to wonder what lead to Trilogy’s cultural, environmentally responsible, and sustainable values, and so I delved into our past as a company to take it back to our co- founders’ mission at the beginning.
Captain Jim Coon
Jim Coon has always felt a deep connection to the ocean. Maybe that’s what nearly being born on a fishing sailboat will do to you. Growing up as a part of the “sailing Coon” family business in Alaska of guiding for fishing and hunting, and working as a commercial fisherman to put himself through college, Jim loved his time on the ocean and loved its bountiful resources. But when he and his father, Eldon Coon, observed the troubling patterns of smaller and smaller fish caught and less overall fish in the ocean, they hoped there could be a better way to make a living on the ocean while not depleting its resources.
They called this idea “non- consumptive tourism,” since back then, there was no word for this kind of thinking, though today we are all familiar with the buzzword of “ecotourism” that is sometimes splashed about a bit too liberally. Jim realized that in order to allow his family business to continue on into next generations and provide guests with the same pristine experiences in paradise, they would need to protect the ocean and its inhabitants.
Doing business with a responsibility to protect the environment is second nature to the Coons and part of the mission of Trilogy Excursions, the sailing company that Jim co- founded with his brother, Rand and his parents Eldon and Jeannette in 1973. When asked about his motivation to do the right thing for the land and ocean even if it means a higher price tag, Jim says, “I want to see that what I do makes a difference for our families, our employees, our islands, and for our community. We can help change attitudes towards conservation in an enjoyable, approachable way while we honor the land and the Hawaiian culture.” This commitment is in line with traditional Hawaiian values as well, as native Hawaiians established the first known marine protected areas in the world- by using the idea of kapu- closing an area to fishing so that its fish population can recover, mature and reproduce. Trilogy is also committed to fostering sustainability not only in our use of the ocean, but also in community initiatives as well, cooperating with island elders on Lana’i and coordinating marine debris cleanups as well as annual Thanksgiving turkey giveaways.
Jim and Rand Coon jamming on deck the original Trilogy in 1976
Over the years, Trilogy has been run as a successful business that always puts responsibility to the environment first- a beacon and a hopeful example to other businesses that doing business pono can still mean a healthy bottom line. Trilogy and Jim Coon have been environmental leaders in marine conservation initiatives starting by building and operating ocean sailing multihulls that harness the wind to sail, taking away dependence on fossil fuels. Trilogy continued in this vein of dedication, becoming the first sailing company to retrofit their boats to pump out waste in onshore facilities rather than dumping at sea, fighting to establish and support a day use mooring system that ended daily anchor damage to reefs, and most recently, converting one of their boats to run entirely on biodiesel, which removes grease waste from landfills and also eliminates the need for burning fossil fuels. When reflecting back on the often slow work of environmental restoration Jim says, “It seems impossible until it’s done”.
Jim has also dedicated much of his life to advocating for responsible environmental policy to help protect our island home. From being chairman of the first Task Force to establish a Whale Sanctuary in Hawaii, to being a charter member in the advisory council for the Sanctuary, to helping establish the first Ocean Resources Management Plan in the country and being involved in it to this day, Jim has always been committed to embodying the idea of pono.
Marine debris collected by Blue'Aina volunteers on Trilogy
Wondering what you can do to make environmental protection a priority as well? When planning any trip, make sure to check out local tour operators and choose ones that are committed to being responsible towards their local resources, whether it’s hiking Macchu Picchu, going on safari in Africa, or sailing with humpback whales in Hawai’i. When traveling in Hawai’i check out the Hawai’i Ecotourism Association, that certifies tour operators and hospitality industries with a rigorous and multi- tiered checklist of environmental responsibility. Also, remember that education is always an important part of ecotourism. Going out on a responsible ecotour means that not only are you “carpooling” to get to the site of interest, but ideally you’re also learning about the local habitat and animals, history of the area, and how to “leave no trace” as you enjoy the area you traveled to experience.
Check out this inspiring timeline of Trilogy’s environmental initiatives and Jim’s steps in protecting our waters for future generations.
Jim and son Riley Coon at dry dock in 2014.
1968- Jim graduates with a degree in Biology
1971- Jim and Rand build a boat with their dad, Eldon, and sail around the Pacific
1973- Trilogy Excursions founded, the first sailing company on Maui, and is granted permission from Lana’i leaders to bring passengers to Hulopo’e Bay on Lana’i
1973- 1975- Pioneer clean up effort of Hulopo’e Bay- Jim receives Hawai’i Senatorial recognition for this
late 1970’s- Jim advocated for the creation of Marine Life Conservation Districts- these are now established at Hulopo’e Bay, Molokini and Honolua Bay
mid 1980’s- Jim helped develop the Ocean Resources Management Plan and served on task force
1983-4- Jim served as chair of Governor Arioshi’s Whale Sanctuary Task Force
1984 Co- founder and current president of the Ocean Tourism Coalition
late 1980’s- Jim served as president of The Ocean Resources Council of Hawaii (TORCH), Maui Chapter, which helped pioneer Hawaii’s day-use moorings program
1990s to 2000s- Jim serves as Chairman of the Sanctuary Advisory Council for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary for 10 years
1989-92 -Officer of The Ocean Recreation Council of Hawai’i
1984-Present- President of Maui County Boaters and Ocean Affiliated Transport
1973- Trilogy is the only boating company with permission to bring passengers to Hulopo’e Marine Preserve on the island of Lanai
1994- Ocean Resources Management Plan adopted by Hawaii Legislature
1990’s- Trilogy helps establish Lana’i Canoe Club by providing state of the art Hawaiian Racing Canoe and providing transportation to races for Lana’i team
1990’s- Trilogy is the only boating company allowed to bring volunteers to Kaho’olawe and continues to work closely with KIRK
1999- Recipient of Environmental Hero Award (NOAA) from Vice President Al Gore
2000- NOAA Star of the Sea Award
1999- Trilogy receives Po’okela award for excellence in all aspects of customer service and environmental protection
Early 1990’s- Jim represents Hawai’i at the National Sanctuaries Chairs Conference. Over the years, Jim was the official Sanctuary Advisory Council representative to annual meetings in Washington DC as well as other locations on the Mainland
2001- Charter member of Marine and Costal Zone Advocacy Council (MACZAC) also called Ke Kahu O Na Kumu Wai
2002- Jim presents his paper “Sustainable Ocean Tourism: Threats, Opportunities, and Needs” to U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy Hawaii and Pacific Islands Regional Meeting
2000’s- Trilogy partners with REEF to do fish counts at several locations on Lana’i and Maui
2000’s- current- Trilogy is a part of NOAA’s Marine Mammal Entanglement Response Network
2004- Jim is a Speaker in Federal Marine Protected Areas Conference
2004- Personally hosted President George H.W. Bush on a whalewatch
2005- Trilogy retrofits all boats to pump waste into onshore facilities instead of dumping at sea, and works with County, State, and Federal partners to help fund a shore side disposal system serving the vessels of South Maui
2005- Trilogy is instrumental in getting a vessel waste pump-out system included in the Manele Harbor improvements on Lana’i
2006, 2007, 2008- Trilogy Nominated for State of Hawaii Living Reef Award
2010- Trilogy’s Blue Aina Reef Cleanup Campaign is launched, cleaning 15 reefs a year with volunteers, where all proceeds benefit local nonprofits
2011- Trilogy was given the Malama Kai Award from Surfrider Foundation
2012- Recipient of Maui Magazine’s Environmental Heroes Award
2013- Trilogy is the first Ocean Recreation business on Maui to be approved as Dolphin SMART by NOAA, following best practices in observing wild dolphins without changing behavior
2014- Trilogy is the first business on Maui to be certified by the Hawai’i Ecotourism Association one of only three companies state wide to receive the highest “Gold” certification
2014- Trilogy hosts a Floating Workshop with Coral Reef Alliance and Maui County councilmembers, leading to an investigation of violations against the Clean Water Act
2014- Jim and Rand Coon are awarded the lifetime achievement award from Mayor’s Small Business Awards
2015- Converted Trilogy V to run on biodiesel
2015- Trilogy became a Conservation Partner with Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, serving only sustainable seafood
2015- rated the #1 Boat Tour in America by Trip Advisor
Annual Turkey Giveaway where each family on Lanai gets a Thanksgiving turkey compliments of Trilogy and its sister company Lanai City Service since 1993. This community event highlights the many organizations that serve the Lanai Community.