This nature conservation project, based on Maui, the second largest Hawaiian island, is striving to protect the sea and marine animals along the coast. The colorful water paradise around Maui is home to an incredible variety of sea life, especially in the many coral reefs where houndreds of fish and mammal species abound. Many animals frequent the waters around Hawaii, as this marine habitat offers ideal conditions for rearing their young – an indispensable prerequisite for the survival of many species. A team of experienced biologists is in charge of the project and is involved in caring for and restoring the coral reefs upon which the nearshore reef life depends and which serve as a natural barrier against the waves of the Pacific. Thus, the reefs are of crucial importance to life on Hawaii. Apart from overall conservation of the coral reefs, the team’s work also focuses on protecting the sea turtles. The extraordinary life history of these animals illustrates how interrelated the ecosystems above and below water are. Although sea turtles spend most of their life in the water, they rely nevertheless on land for their survival. They need undisturbed beaches for laying their eggs and for basking (resting on land).
Far away from the rest of the world, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, lie the idyllic islands of Hawaii. The group of islands is symbolic of life in paradise and names such as Maui or Oahu trigger a longing for freedom, nature and the sea. Hawaii is truly unique. The landscape is marked by volcanoes, an incredibly beautiful coastline and fantastic beaches lapped by the wild waves of the Pacific. Volcanic activity is responsible for a large part of the earth’s surface, but nowhere is this as evident as on the Hawaiian Islands. The islands and the lava substrate beneath the submerged reefs were all formed by a hotspot beneath the Earth’s crust, which gave rise to volcanoes. The second largest island is Maui, where the nature conservation project is based – an absolute water paradise. In the offshore bays and channels is where whales give birth to their young in winter. It is home to many manta rays, dolphins and sea turtles. At first sight, one gets the impression that the Hawaiian islands and their breathtaking endemic nature have so far been spared from the rigors of global environmental change. However – as all over our planet – the impacts of climate change and increasing other human interference in nature, endanger this sensitive ecosystem.
To take part in this project you should be at least 18 years old and have good English skills. You need no prior knowledge or professional qualifications to volunteer for this project. You will be given instructions for the allotted tasks on a daily basis, as well as all the necessary background information about Hawaii’s nature and conservation measures. Even if the natural paradise on Maui tempts you to daydream, you should be aware that the tasks entrusted to you should be taken seriously and that they will contribute to conserving the unique character of this ecosystem. You should be able to work in temperatures of more than 30°C. It will be assumed that you are a good swimmer (for assignments in the coral reefs) and that you are prepared to learn how to snorkel if you do not already know how to.
You will need to provide your own snorkel gear and you should practice in a pool to feel comfortable with your mask. There are many tasks to choose from and the snorkeling portion is optional but a most enjoyable and enlightening part of the program. Many assignments and situations require patience and sometimes even courage. But if you are committed and have self-confidence this will be an experience that you will enjoy and never forget. You will soon be carried away by the project and it will rouse the adventurer in you.
The Hawaiian Islands are one of the most important nesting areas for many species such as the threatend Green Sea Turtle and endangered Hawksbill Sea Turtle (which is critically endangered world-wide). As a volunteer, you will accompany the team from the first day onward so that you can familiarize yourself with the tasks involved in the project and be trained on data collection methods. Records are made of incidents of coral bleaching or disease, invasive species or individual fish disease by monitoring the coral reefs and these records are then used to gauge reef health, and potential threats to reef health. For such work, you will of course be instructed in the proper use of your snorkel gear. Once you have mastered this, you will literally gain an insight into Maui’s fantastic underwater world. The sea turtles’ nesting grounds on the beaches are checked at regular intervals by the team. During the day, the team looks for nesting turtle tracks, and experienced snorkelers can assist with in-water sea turtle snorkel transects. The team also assists with beach and protective fence restoration. At the basking beach, you assist with green turtle data collection including counts and recording markings for individual identification. To ensure better protection at the nesting beaches, the clutches are marked and counted, and any damage is recorded.
The two highlights of the year are the months when the eggs are laid and – naturally – when they hatch. As both usually happen after dark, some members of the team spend the night on the beach around this time, to watch over events. The freshly hatched turtles leave the nest as night falls to avoid the heat and predators such as crabs, birds or fish. It is estimated that only one in a thousand of the young reach sexual maturity. Sea turtles always return to the beach where they were hatched to lay their eggs and that is why it is particularly important to protect these beaches and enforce rules to guarantee the harmonious coexistence of man and animal. This project is the perfect opportunity for volunteers to learn about work on nature conservation and make an active contribution to Maui’s natural habitat. In keeping with NATUCATE’s philosophy you will experience Hawaii’s nature at its best, far from the beaten track.
During the time you spend on the project you will get to know some of the remotest and some of the intensely utilized corners of Maui as you move from one area of the island to another. You will be housed in the Northshore Hostel in the little town of Wailuku/Kahului and the daily excursions with the team will start from there. You will share a three or four bedroom with shared bathroom. Regular meals for your sustenance are included. As the turtle breeding grounds are also monitored at night, you may also have the chance to sleep in a tent on the beach. The airport is in Kahului and there are direct flights from most countries. You will be picked up at the airport by a member of the team and taken to the hostel. All transfers during the project take place in the team’s mini-buses and are organized by the team.
Everybody interested in volunteering abroad should be able to adjust to entirely unfamiliar standards of living in their future host country. Therefore, we would like to point out the importance of being flexible and adaptable regarding the accommodation and sanitary facilities provided by the project. Those are very basic and – depending on the project – cannot be compared to European standards. The equipment and furnishings are limited to a minimum; air conditioning is not available. Depending on your host country occasional power blackouts or water outages are quite common. Please contact us if you have further questions about your accommodation. We are pleased to provide you with comprehensive information since we would like you to feel entirely prepared for your time abroad.
While working on the project you will travel around the north and west side of the island, getting to know new people and having such a varied schedule that you won’t want to do anything else. The evenings are usually spent together in the hostel or on the beach, where the events of the day can be mulled over at a casual get-together. We would recommend that you explore Hawaii on your own either before or after your project and travel from island to island. The smallest inhabited island, Ni’ihau, is privately owned and the family prohibits visitors and tourists as far as possible. But the other islands have more than enough to offer: idyllic beaches, awesome cliffs, extinct and active volcanoes, rainforests and the metropolis of Honolulu. More than half the Hawaiian population live in the vicinity of the capitol, which is where the majority of tourists land and then – for some inexplicable reason – spend their time on the crowded beach at Waikiki. Little do they know that there are far more beautiful and unspoiled beaches on the rest of the island, on the north coast in particular. Anyone wanting to see Hawaii’s hugest waves – the so-called Jaws or Peahi – might be lucky to see them breaking in winter on the north coast of Maui. Whether or not you are a surfer, this natural phenomenon is well worth seeing. Jaws are not the largest waves on earth but are among the most spectacular.