by Michele McKay
Watching wildlife is a great way for people of all ages to experience nature and learn about the flora, fauna and environment of our Hawaiian Islands. However, wildlife enthusiasts who disturb land and marine animals or who overuse sensitive areas can pose a threat to the long-term health of wildlife, native plants, and habitats. The Hawaii Watchable Wildlife Project includes a network of 31 viewing sites statewide and a guidebook called The Hawaii Wildlife Viewing Guide. The project encourages ecologically responsible and sustainable wildlife watching conduct, as well as the use of appropriate viewing locations. They offer these guidelines:
- Look in the right place at the right time. The specific habitat, time of day, and season are important factors to consider when looking for wildlife.
- Learn before you go. Read about the wildlife, viewing sites, and local regulations in the area you’ll be visiting.
- Keep your distance. Wild animals are sensitive to human disturbance; resist the temptation to go near them, their nests, or their resting areas. Use binoculars!
- Look, but don’t touch. If a wild animal comes near you, back away calmly.
- Do not feed or attract wildlife. Feeding or attracting animals can disrupt normal feeding cycles, make them vulnerable to injury, and cause sickness or death.
- Help others. Speak up if you notice other people behaving in a way that impacts sensitive habitats or disturbs wildlife and other viewers. Remember to be friendly, respectful, and discrete. Do report violations of the law to local authorities.
- Respect the rights of other people. Ask permission to enter private lands and abide by all “no trespassing” signs. Be considerate in urban neighborhoods.
- Lend a hand with trash removal. Human garbage is one of the greatest threats to wildlife. Carry a trash bag and pick up litter wherever you see it.
The Hawaii Watchable Wildlife Project reminds wildlife viewers and nature lovers to:
- Clean shoes after a hike. Seeds from invasive species can be transported in the tread of muddy shoes.
- Remain at least 50 yards from dolphins and monk seals. Refrain from swimming with these mammals, or approaching while they are at rest.
- Do not touch, ride, or feed sea turtles. Maintain your distance, whether they are in the water or basking on the beach.
- Do not feed or touch reef fish. Feeding peas or other food to fish can cause illness or death.
- Do not touch coral. Enter water in a sandy area, and float above the coral heads.