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Help Hike Maui Protect Our Fragile Environment

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Made in Maui Reef Safe Bug Repellent

Hawai‘i’s fragile ecosystems have evolved to their current state as a result of our islands being isolated from other land masses for millions of years. A lack of natural threats from aggressive competitors and predators means many of our native plant species and animals exist without any natural defenses. Hawai‘i is home to approximately 150 different ecosystems, many of which are so unique that the Islands form their own distinct global bioregion.

As an outdoors-based tour company, Hike Maui is passionate about protecting our natural environment, including our rainforests, streams, and ocean waters. When fresh water falls from the sky onto our precious rainforests, it begins a long, winding journey toward the ocean. Much of this rainwater soaks into the ground, but nearly a third collects on the surface and travels downward toward the ocean in our freshwater streams. It’s this connection of mauka (mountain) to makai (ocean) that defines the Hawaiian ecosystem.

There are a couple of easy things you can do to help us protect and preserve our vital, yet fragile ecosystems. First, we highly recommend using only reef-safe sunscreens while on a tour with Hike Maui, and any time you’re having fun in the sun. Last July, Governor David Ige made history by signing Senate Bill 2571 (now Act 104) into law, making Hawai‘i the first state in the U.S. to ban the sale and distribution of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate chemicals without a prescription issued by a licensed healthcare provider. Both chemicals have been proven to be highly toxic to the environment.

In addition to recommending the use of reef-safe sunscreens, Hike Maui provides an all-natural insect repellent for all our guests that’s made right here on the island by a wonderful mom-and-pop operation called Nalu Koa. Not only is it non-toxic, it’s in gel form, which means it needs to be reapplied less frequently. Repellents containing DEET are environmental contaminants that break down slowly in soil. A recent U.S. Geological Survey listed DEET as one of the compounds most frequently found in the nation’s streams. And did you know overspray from DEET-based insect repellent can travel as much as two miles? That’s absolutely mind-boggling!

Since Hawai‘i’s freshwater streams flow directly into the ocean, it’s vital we do all we can to prevent pollutants from damaging our delicate coral reefs. Hawai‘i’s ocean waters are home to more than 60 percent of all coral reefs in the U.S. Often called the “rainforests of the sea,” Hawai‘i’s coral reefs occupy more than 400,000 acres in the main Hawaiian Islands, and nurture more than 7,000 known species of marine plants and animals. Our living reef ecosystem feeds, shelters, and provides habitats for fish, protects the shoreline from wave and sand erosion, and creates our glorious white sand beaches and underwater paradise.

Corals (ko‘a in Hawaiian) are living animals that eat, grow, and reproduce. Hawaiians have a deep connection to both the land and sea, which stems from the belief that all life is interrelated. Early Hawaiians recognized the importance of corals and the coral reef as a major component of the building blocks of our Islands. Ko‘a is mentioned in the beginning verses of the Kumulipo, the 2,102-line creation chant of Hawai‘i. The coral polyp was the first creature to emerge during creation, according to Hawaiian mythology.

But today, coral reefs are among the most threatened ecosystems in the world. When global threats such as warming waters combine with direct threats like overfishing and water pollution, it severely compromises the ability of corals to grow, reproduce, and thrive. As many as one-third of all reef-building corals are currently at risk of extinction.

Besides using reef-safe sunscreen and non-DEET insect repellent while visiting our beautiful tropical paradise, there are a few other ways to help:

  • While swimming in the ocean, stay horizontal and float over the reef. If you need to take a break, find a sandy area to stand on. Standing on or touching coral can kill it, and you could get hurt by the coral’s sharp edges.
  • Refrain from using personal care products, such as shampoo, at beach showers. Instead, take a quick rinse so the chemicals don’t enter the watershed leading to the ocean.
  • Dispose of your trash properly. Garbage, especially plastics, has a devastating effect on marine life, and can even suffocate coral.


Mahalo to Maui Ocean Center, the Aquarium of Hawai‘i, for providing much of this valuable information.