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Pono Pledge: Encouraging Mindful Travel

“Pono extends beyond its many English translations. To live pono is to be in perfect harmony with all things — and to be aligned with your custodial relationship with the planet and its inhabitants.”

—Larry Lindsey Kauanoe Kimura, Grandfather of Hawaiian Language Revitalization

In the spring of 2021, as travel was starting to show signs of a recovery from its COVID-19 shutdown, conversations were being had throughout Hawai`i about how to better manage the industry that’s so important to the state’s economy. During the year “off,” residents found that typically congested roads were wide open, crowded beaches they suddenly had almost to themselves, and endangered environments dramatically improved.

Then, before the conversations were finished and before any new policies could be put in place to try to balance the needs and enjoyment of residents with those of visitors, the floodgates opened.

Timing was perfect to reinvigorate the island of Hawai`i Pono Pledge, which was first born in 2018. The concept is simple and applies to all travelers: that no matter where your wanderlust takes you, to be mindful of the place and the people who call that special place home.

Of the 1,653 species listed as endangered or threatened in the United States, nearly a third (501 species) are found in Hawai`i. That’s nearly double the next highest state, California, which has 301. North Dakota has nine.

The endangered species found mainly or only in Hawai`i include the Green Sea Turtle (honu), the Hawaiian Hoary Bat (`ōpe`ape`a), the Hawaiian Hawk (`io), the Hawaiian Monk Seal (`īlio holo i ka uaua), and the state bird, the Hawaiian Goose (nēnē).

The Pono Pledge seeks to make visitors aware that even seemingly innocent acts, such as applying sunscreen when going to the beach, can have harmful consequences, as scientists believe that products containing oxybenzone and octinoxate — two common ingredients in sunscreen — contribute to bleaching in coral reefs. Studies have estimated that up to 14,000 tons of sunscreen end up in Hawai`i’s coral reefs every year.

Consequently, state lawmakers passed a bill in 2018 that bans the sale and distribution of sunscreens containing those ingredients that went into effect earlier this year.

Coral bleaching — which on Hawai`i Island disproportionately affects the Kohala Coast — not only deprives swimmers and snorkelers of a more colorful experience, but it lessens food supplies for fish and other undersea life, and thus the entire ecosystem is compromised. (It should also be noted that ocean warming is thought to be largely responsible for coral bleaching.)

“We hope when visitors come to visit our beautiful Hawai`i, that they come with an open mind and open heart,” says Pono Pledge ambassador and kahu (respected elder), Earl Regidor. “And be able to learn from the people that live here in hopes that they too will want to experience the beauty of the culture, the history, the people, and of course the `āina (land).”

“What I think travel pono is about is being mindful of how you interact with the land,” says Soni Pomaski, restaurateur and another Pono Pledge ambassador. “Enjoy it, share it with people, but leave it as it is. Everything is alive and everything should be treated with reverence and respect, and I think that’s the best way to enjoy it.”

The Island of Hawai'i Pono Pledge

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