Meet Dimitri Nikolai
First Officer, The Marine Mammal Center volunteer, Dad and surfer
For Hawaiian Airlines pilot Dimitri Nikolai, the coastal landscape surrounding his family’s Kona home is much more than a beautiful backdrop. “What’s fantastic about Kona is the clarity of the water, which gives us a unique opportunity to see a ton of sea life, fish, green sea turtles and even the occasional monk seal,” he says. “A typical morning at our house starts super early with breakfast, a trip to the beach and some good times in the ocean, whether there’s surf or not.”
Dimitri spends time each month volunteering at Ke Kai Ola, The Marine Mammal Center’s hospital and visitor center on Hawaii Island and the only hospital dedicated to the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. As the world’s largest marine mammal hospital, The Marine Mammal Center cares for sick and injured seals and other marine mammals and facilitates crucial outreach and education in the community.
“Hawaii has afforded us a lot of amazing experiences and a very unique lifestyle,” Dimitri says. “When we learned about The Marine Mammal Center’s mission to advance ocean conservation and the rehabilitation of marine life, it really resonated with us. It just happens to be in our backyard and less than a quarter-mile from our family’s favorite surf break, so it was a natural fit.”
As an animal care volunteer for Ke Kai Ola, Dimitri helps with facility upkeep, meal prep for the seal patients, and keeping animals stimulated through environmental enrichment, such as giving them “fishsicles” and fish boxes to lengthen their feeding times and encourage engagement. “We love where we live—let’s do whatever is needed to protect this place so we can show our children a Hawaiian monk seal on the very same beaches someday,” he says. “The seals blessed us with their presence, and we have to take care of them.”
When he’s not in the water or volunteering, Dimitri is a first officer on Airbus A330 flights for Hawaiian Airlines. As Hawaii’s hometown carrier, Hawaiian Airlines has a unique opportunity to reach a large number of both visitors and locals, and Dimitri appreciates the airline’s commitment to educating guests about how to preserve the Islands’ natural resources, cultures and communities.
“We’re happy to have excited visitors come and experience this beautiful and special place with us,” he says. “We want to get the word out that they can play a part in protecting Hawaii so that it remains pristine and is here to share with future generations — for instance, by enjoying the monk seals from a safe distance.”
Ultimately, Dimitri hopes his efforts will inspire residents and visitors to adopt a conservation mindset and find ways to give back in their daily lives. “My life is so simple,” he says. “It’s family, it’s going to the beach and enjoying surfing together, seeing the marine life and saying, ‘All right, when we’re done here, let’s do our part — let’s pay it back and try to help out.’”