Plenty of people come to Hawaii for the beaches and mai tais, but more and more, visitors are looking for experiences beyond the surface. For opportunities to get off the beaten path, consider volunteering at an ancient native Hawaiian fishpond, restoring an indigenous forest or joining a beach cleanup. These are all ways to give back to the Islands while also learning more about Hawaii, and in some cases, getting exclusive access to places not generally accessible to the public. Here are five places to volunteer on Oahu.
Waimea Valley on the north shore of Oahu is deeply rooted in Hawaiian history, with a heiau (place of worship) and a burial temple that are still preserved today as a testament to a rich history. But the valley isn’t simply a place of the past – it continues to be a site for Hawaiians who participate in traditional practices and arts, from kalo (taro) farming to mea kaua (Hawaiian weapons making). Volunteer opportunities at Waimea Valley include invasive species removal among the botanical gardens and at Hawaiian cultural sites, forest restoration projects up at the central ridgeline and family-friendly volunteer events.
For the full list of upcoming volunteer days and to RSVP, visit https://www.waimeavalley.net/volunteer
In southeast Oahu, Maunalua Bay is one of the largest bays in the main Hawaiian Islands. Almost 20 years ago, the community noticed its health deteriorating – fish populations were decreasing, the marine reef was disappearing and the water was increasingly polluted – and so a group rallied to restore the bay. Since then, volunteers have removed invasive algae (and composted it for local farmers to use) and planted climate-resilient corals, among many other restoration efforts.
Find the calendar of volunteer events at https://www.malamamaunalua.org/volunteer/
In traditional times, Hawaiians cultivated one of the most extensive areas of wetland taro in He‘eia, an ahupua‘a on the east side of Oahu – taro was grown in high volumes here all the way through the mid-1930s. Since 2010, Kakoo Oiwi, a non-profit and cultural group, has been restoring the agricultural and ecological productivity of about 400 acres in Heeia. There are many opportunities to join their work, including weeding, planting and harvesting in the loi (taro patch) or helping to restore the wetlands by removing invasive plants, planting native species and clearing waterways.
For more information and to sign up, visit: https://kakoooiwi.org/volunteering/
Malama Loko Ea
At one time, almost every ahupuaa, or land division, had a fishpond along the shoreline. In them, Native Hawaiians practiced a form of aquaculture that relied on the tides and meeting of fresh water with ocean water. But after Western contact, the fishponds fell into disrepair or were filled in by developers. In recent years, a number of ancient fishponds across the Hawaiian Islands are being restored back to their original use of feeding the community. At Loko Ea in the town of Haleiwa, volunteers help clear the pond of invasive species, giving space for native fish and seaweed to return. Join the Holole‘a cultural tour to learn the history and significance of Loko Ea while also having hands-on opportunities to help restore the fishpond.
Make a reservation at https://www.lokoea.org/hololea.html
Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii first began by organizing beach cleanups – now, the cleanups help inspire people to coastal stewardship beyond a day picking up trash. But the cleanups are still at the core of what Sustainable Coastlines does: at a recent one, in just one day, volunteers collected 6,000 pounds of trash and recycled almost 2,000 pounds of metal. You can join one of the organized events, or stop by Sustainable Coastline’s office in Kaimuki to pick up a DIY cleanup kit.
For more information on upcoming cleanups and how you can help, visit https://www.instagram.com/sustainablecoastlineshawaii/ and https://www.sustainablecoastlineshawaii.org/