Last updated: 07:06 PM ET, Sun August 07 2016

Hawaii’s Eco Travel

Clients can experience and learn about the Hawaiian Islands’ abundant marine life

Vacation Agent | Destination & Tourism | Ryan Rudnansky

Hawaii’s Eco Travel

PHOTO: Coral reefs are just one of the many eco-friendly attractions driving visitors to Hawaii.

In June, the world marked World Oceans Month, a celebration of the globe’s beautiful bodies of water. The Hawaiian Islands celebrated its abundant marine life with programs and events ranging from exhibits at local aquariums to a global conservation initiative created by a popular hotel company that was founded in Honolulu.

The month was a reminder that the concerns of the travel industry touch all aspects of human life, including the environment.

A wealth of marine life, of course, surrounds the Hawaiian Islands, which are known for their unique marine environments and species. This includes an incredible coral reef ecosystem that is worth protecting. There are some great attractions throughout the Hawaiian Islands that pay homage to this coral reef ecosystem and the numerous endemic marine species that greet visitors every year.

Here’s a look at the coral reefs and marine environments that make the Hawaiian Islands so special, as well as a nod to a Honolulu-based hotel company and an overview of environmentally conscious products travel agents can add to their clients’ itineraries.


The Hawaiian Islands sport some of the most unique coral reefs in the world. They boast 410,000 acres of living reefs in the main islands alone, encompassing a greater area than the landmass of Oahu. That reef ecosystem — also known as “the rainforest of the sea” — feeds, shelters and provides habitats for fish, protects the shoreline from wave and sand erosion and helps in creating Hawaii’s famous white-sand beaches. The reef ecosystem in the Hawaiian Islands is populated by more than 7,000 known species of marine plants and animals.

But it’s not just about the number of reefs the Hawaiian Islands support. Of the 7,000 or so known species of marine life that exist throughout the area, more than 25 percent are endemic to the Islands, and scientists are discovering new species regularly.

A Presidential Executive Order in 2000 created the Northwestern Hawaiian Island Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve, a protected area encompassing 84 million acres of ocean that is the largest conservation area ever established in the nation. In fact, the largest percentage of the United States’ coral reefs is found in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (the 10 mostly uninhabited islets and atolls extending 1,200 miles northwest of the main Hawaiian Islands).

There has also been some work on the Hawaiian Islands’ part to preserve the reefs. For example, Hanauma Bay is Hawaii’s first marine life conservation district, having been designated as one in 1967. The protected fish in Hanauma Bay are estimated to outweigh those in most reef sites on Oahu by three to four times.

Additionally, more than 500 species of algae have been found in Hawaiian coastal waters. Algae are not only vital food sources for the ocean’s marine life but are also important for human life. They produce an enormous amount of oxygen (more than all land plants in the world combined), and they create compounds that are found in gelatin, jam and many other food products. Coralline algae are also responsible for creating much of the sand found on Hawaii’s beaches.

Across the globe, coral reefs account for billions of dollars in economic activity and environmental services such as food production, protection of coasts and tourism. In fact, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), reefs alone provide up to 15 tons of seafood per square kilometer each year.

But coral reef ecosystems are also fragile. According to NOAA, over 60 percent of the world’s reefs are under threat as of today, facing dangers such as climate change, unsustainable fishing and land-based pollution.


On June 8, also known as World Oceans Day, Honolulu-based Outrigger Resorts announced the launch of a global conservation initiative called OZONE (or Outrigger’s Zone) designed to foster the health and strength of coral surrounding the beach destinations of the company. This came two days after Outrigger and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) signed a memorandum of agreement that stated their commitment to work together to support the conservation and education needs of the public.

READ MORE: How to Get Up Close to a Lava Flow in Hawaii

OZONE was inspired by Geoffrey Shaw, former owner of Castaway Island, Fiji, and chairman of the Mamanuca Environment Society. OZONE’s mission is to generate awareness about coral reef systems while enhancing the guest experience at Outrigger Resorts beach properties through education and authentic interaction. Guests will be able to learn about the platform via in-room videos and on-property talks, as well as have the opportunity to plant coral at participating Outrigger properties such as Castaway Island, Fiji.

“OZONE is an action plan that charts a clear course for Outrigger to make a positive impact in helping to save and protect coral reefs and ultimately the wellness of waters around the world,” said Bitsy Kelley, vice president of corporate communications for Outrigger Enterprises Group, via a press release on the program.

“As a lifelong surfer, swimmer and snorkeler, ocean health is near and dear to my heart and I’m extremely proud that Outrigger Resorts has pledged significant resources and is aligning with key conservation partners for this important cause.”

She added, “With more than 500 million people around the world depending on coral reefs, it is our responsibility to ensure their future — however, we are the ones threatening its survival the most. And since coral grows at such a slow rate, the time is now to make a change.”

Strategic international partnerships for OZONE include NOAA, Polynesian Voyaging Society (PVS) and Pacific Islands Ocean Observing System (PacIOOS), as well as local organizations where beachfront properties are located, including the Waikiki Aquarium in Hawaii, Underwater World in Guam, Mamanuca Environment Society in Fiji, Reef Conservation in Mauritius and more. Corporate partners include Maui Divers Jewelry, Tori Richards and Best Dives Maldives.

The partnership between Outrigger and NOAA is the only such relationship between the federal agency and an international hotel chain.

Outrigger plans to build on its dedication to the environment via current and future sustainability and conservation initiatives.


Travel agents can recommend a couple of venues and experiences on the islands of Oahu and Maui to clients who are interested in learning about the ocean environment and marine life across the Hawaiian Islands.

The Waikiki Aquarium is a major attraction on Oahu that simply doesn’t get enough attention and should be added to every itinerary. The aquarium, established in 1904, is the second-oldest public aquarium in the U.S. It houses a variety of marine life, including invertebrates, fish, reptiles, marine mammals, and plants and seaweed. That includes crustaceans, mollusks, jellies, butterfly fish, frogfish, eels, parrotfish, sharks, rays, turtles, sea snakes and Hawaiian Monk Seals.

The aquarium also hosts a variety of exhibits and events throughout the year. There are exhibits on everything from sharks and turtles to seahorses and — yes — coral reefs. Annual events range from tributes to World Oceans Month and Earth Day to an international koi show to family-friendly entertainment such as Animal Super-Powers, which celebrates different marine animals as superheroes.

Activities include “Afternoons at the Aquarium,” “Keiki Time” “Meet the Monk Seals,” “Behind the Scenes Tour,” “Aquarium After Dark,” “Exploring the Reef at Night,” “Summer by the Sea” and more.

In addition to its partnership with Outrigger Resorts, Waikiki Aquarium also partners with a variety of other ocean-friendly organizations, while establishing programs to protect coral reefs, curb rain runoff and rescue and release marine animals.

For clients looking to explore Maui, the Maui Ocean Center is another ocean-friendly major attraction. Maui Ocean Center is the nation’s largest tropical reef aquarium, sporting hundreds of marine animals and over 60 exhibits. Marine life includes tropical reef fish, octopus, moray eels, green sea turtles, sharks, stingrays, sea jellies and more.

The center doesn’t exhibit whales or dolphins in compliance with a County of Maui ordinance, instead educating visitors through interpretive displays in the Marine Mammal Discovery Center. The center also doesn’t perform animal shows, but, again, this is a good thing. Maui Ocean Center displays the animals in realistic, natural environments and the animals are fed according to their needs. Trained ocean naturalists do, on the other hand, give presentations about the animals. Behind-the-scenes tours, turtle encounters and presentations by special guest speakers are also offered.

The average stay at the center is roughly two hours, giving you a good idea of the size of the place.

For more information on the Waikiki Aquarium, visit For more information on Maui Ocean Center, visit


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Vacation Agent Magazine

A version of this article appears in print in the July 2015 issue of Vacation Agent Magazine.