Hawaii’s Version of the Asian Carp Story

photo hawaii snorkel ecotourism fish
Snorkeling in Oahu.

Hawaii is a part of the United States. That’s what my AT&T rep quipped when I asked about iPhone coverage. So I’m covered here for phone and Internet access. And I’m more than covered when it comes to the problem of invasive species. If you think we have it bad in the Great Lakes with the Asian carp situation, think again. We have it easy compared to Hawaii, where invasive species threaten to blot out the eco-tourism economy like a dinosaur-scrubbing asteroid.

On the long flight here, my wife and I had to fill out an agricultural declaration form promising we wouldn’t bring in or take out plants, animals or any agricultural materials. Immediately, I was reminded of trips I’ve taken to foreign countries where similar forms had to be filled out. And I thought of my snide AT&T rep.

It turns out that Hawaii has a huge issue with invasive species, dwarfing our Asian carp problem by comparison (I suppose it depends on your perspective).

As noted by About.com:

“Despite the efforts of more than 20 state, federal, and private agencies, unwanted alien pests are entering Hawai’i at an alarming rate – about 2 million times more rapid than the natural rate. In 1993, the federal Office of Technology Assessment declared Hawaii’s alien pest species problem the worst in the nation.

“Hawaii’s evolutionary isolation from the continents, and its modern role as the commercial hub of the Pacific make these islands particularly vulnerable to destruction by alien pests. Gaps in current pest prevention systems and a lack of public awareness add further to this serious problem.”

Public awareness is right. Among tourists, and apparently some of the folks who live here. Hawaii is a beautiful place, but its isolation makes me wonder about a lot of things:

  • Why isn’t there more recycling here? I haven’t seen a recycling container since I arrived. I can’t imagine they have a lot of extra room for landfilling trash.
  • How much attention is being paid to the importance of maintaining the delicate ecology here and making sure visitors — and residents — don’t screw it up?

The wife and I went snorkeling on Tuesday. We saw dolphins and fish and one sea turtle and had a great time. But they fed hamburger buns to the fish. That’s a no-no, according to the Hawaii Ecotourism Association:

“Avoid feeding fish or other wildlife,” the HEA says in a Green Travel Tips guide.

“Feeding wildlife alters their natural behaviors and can upset the natural balance of the reef or the ocean environment.”

At least the folks aboard the boat we took out for snorkeling used a pre-installed anchor, so as not to damage the reef.

On the invasive species front, stinging Little Fire Ants from South America and birds known as Japanese White-Eyes are two poster children for the islands.

One more thing: I found out this morning that the Alliance for the Great Lakes is teaming up with musician Jack Johnson (who has a solar-powered studio in Hawaii) to raise funds to protect our freshwater seas.

The Alliance will get $1 for everyone who watches this video to the end. The Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation also is matching dollar donations up to $2,500 until Oct. 15. See www.greatlakes.org/allatonce for details.

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