Whether you want to volunteer at Hawaii Island’s food bank, help clear invasive plants at the summit of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, or count humpback whales during the winter season, you’ll find many voluntourism opportunities on Hawaii Island. These are all ways to give back while also learning more about Hawaii and its communities, and in some cases, getting exclusive access to places not generally accessible to the public. Here are five places to volunteer on Hawaii Island.
The Food Basket
The Food Basket is Hawaii Island’s food bank, dedicated to distributing food to vulnerable populations. You can volunteer at its Kona or Hilo warehouses to pack boxes or help with Kokua Harvest, The Food Basket’s gleaning project, which distributes excess produce from farms, backyard gardens, restaurants, and other sources to low-income communities throughout Hawaii Island.
Visit https://www.hawaiifoodbasket.org/volunteer and https://www.kokuaharvest.org/ for more information and to sign up.
Hawaii Wildlife Fund
The Hawaii Wildlife Fund aims to protect native coastal and marine wildlife. On Hawaii Island, its volunteer events focus on community beach cleanups and net patrol, targeting large debris like fishing nets that are especially hazardous to marine wildlife. It also hosts wetland workdays and native plant seed collection, the latter working with the Hawaii Island Seed Bank to save native coastal and dry forest plant species in Kau for future restoration and outplanting. Tip: join a community beach cleanup first and get to know the staff to inquire about the other volunteer opportunities.
For more information, visit https://www.wildhawaii.org/get-involved/volunteer/
Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary
If you’re in Hawaii during peak whale season, from January through March, when humpback whales migrate to Hawaii for warmer waters to breed, consider joining the Sanctuary Ocean Count. The yearly citizen science and outreach project offers the community a chance to monitor and observe humpback whales from the shoreline – you’ll tally whale sightings and document their behavior. The count is held the last Saturday of January, February, and March of each year from 8 a.m. to noon.
For more information visit https://oceancount.org/
Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative
The Waikoloa ahupuaa (land division), in the northwest of Hawaii Island, is one of the driest places in the Hawaiian archipelago. But it is home to native plants such as alihee, with its fragrant blooms, and the beloved wiliwili tree, a native tree once prized by early Hawaiians for its lightweight wood, ideal for surfboards. The Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative aims to protect and restore the 275-acres Waikoloa Dry Forest Preserve to a native forest and habitat and it hosts monthly workdays to help clear weeds, plant trees and collect native seeds.
To sign up, visit https://www.waikoloadryforest.org/malama-aina-volunteer/
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, stretching from sea level to 13,680 feet, is home to two of the most active volcanoes on the planet. It is also a habitat to giant hapuu, a tree fern; ohia trees; and the endangered Mauna Loa silversword, though they are all threatened by invasive plants and wildlife. Participate in the Volcanoes National Park’s regular Stewardship at the Summit events – you’ll check in at Kilauea Visitor Center and help remove invasive plants like Himalayan ginger on the park trails. The work is largely under the forest canopy, where you might be serenaded by native honey creepers like apapane, amakihi and omao.
For volunteer opportunities at Hawaii Island’s national parks, visit https://www.nps.gov/subjects/volunteer/vip-events.htm