Where to Volunteer on Maui

These days, giving some of your vacation time back to the Valley Isle goes a long way. The fires that destroyed Lahaina and damaged Kula in August 2023 dramatically increased Maui’s economic and environmental challenges, while upending the lives of many volunteers and staff of local nonprofits. By supporting the concept of regenerative tourism — leaving a place better than you found it — you can also benefit from unique encounters with the people, wildlife and environment that make Maui so special.

Clean a Beach

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Photo: Courtesy of Hawai‘i Land Trust

By now we’ve all heard about the insidious problem of plastic pollution in the ocean and its devastating effect on marine life, which in Hawai‘i includes green sea turtles (honu), migratory birds, reef fish and highly endangered Hawaiian monk seals. Prevent more damage by becoming a “honu hero”  by collecting plastic on the beach with the aid of a cleanup kit from the Maui Ocean Center. It includes a bucket or reusable bag for debris and gloves, along with a clipboard, pencils and datasheet to track what you find. Register 72 hours in advance to pick up your kit from 10am to 2pm Tuesday through Friday. Post a picture of your cleanup to Instagram with #HonuHero and you’ll get a special sticker when you return your kit.

More info: Maui Ocean Center Marine Institute, 192 Maʻalaea Road, Ma‘alaea Harbor, Wailuku, 808.270.7000, Honu Hero Beach Cleanup

Preserve Coastal Lands

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Photo: Courtesy of @hawaiiwildlifefund

Whether spending the day clearing invasive species and trash, or putting plants in the ground, land lovers will enjoy supporting Hawai‘i Land Trust’s core mission of “protecting and stewarding the lands that sustain Hawaii.” As a volunteer, you’ll get to spend time on land that is not necessarily accessible to the public, and you’ll get the satisfaction of giving back. Register in advance to work at the Waihe‘e Coastal Dunes & Wetlands Refuge, which also includes important cultural sites, most Fridays and the third Saturday of the month from 8 a.m. to noon, or four times a year at the remote Nu‘u Refuge in Kaupo.

More info: Hawai’i Land Trust, Various locations, 808.791.0729, hilt.org

Restore a Fishpond

Hawaiian fishponds (loko i‘a) are considered the pinnacle of Polynesian aquaculture. Since 1998, individuals and groups of volunteers have been helping to restore the lava rock walls at South Maui’s largest fishpond, passing one rock at a time while standing in the shallow water. Sign up online to find out about the next regularly scheduled workday.

More info:  Ko‘ie‘ie Fishpond, Kalepolepo Beach Park, Kihei, 808.359.1172, mauifishpondassociation.org

Care for Native Plants

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Photo: Courtesy of HTA-Heather Goodman

Worried about your green thumb drying out while you’re on vacation? If you’re interested in native plants and want to get your hands dirty, join other “Weed and Pot Club” volunteers at the public Maui Nui Botanical Gardens.  They meet every Wednesday from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m., weeding for one hour, then potting plants in the nursery. Gloves, tools, snacks, and drinks are provided, but wear covered shoes and sun-protective clothing and bring a refillable water bottle.

More info: Maui Nui Botanical Gardens, 150 Kanaloa Avenue, Kahului, 808.249.2798, mnbg.org

Walk a Shelter Dog

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Photo: Courtesy of Maui Humane Society

After the August wildfires, donations poured into Maui Humane Society from all over the world to help it care and feed for a sudden influx of stray pets and to provide pet supplies to the humans who had lost everything. Still, money can’t give a pooch much-needed attention and exercise. If you’re a confident dog walker who can handle a young, active canine between 40 and 65 pounds, take take one out and about through the Dog on Demand  program, which also gives dogs the opportunity to meet potential adopters.You’ll receive everything you need for a fun day’s adventure, including suggestions for the best places to go. Sign up 10 days in advance, or drop in to see if more dogs are available, for the program, which takes place daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

More info: Maui Humane Society, 1350 Mehameha Loop, Pu‘unene, 808.877.3680, Maui Humane Society

Count the Whales

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Photo: Courtesy of Colton Jones

Here’s a great reason to cry, “Thar she blows!” Every year  volunteers across the state participate in one of the longest-running community scientist projects by scanning for migratory humpback whales on specific days during January, February and March—the peak of whale season. Register in advance to scan the waters from 8 a.m. to noon at a designated location, with tracking instructions provided. 

More info: Pacific Whale Foundation, various locations, 808.249.8811, pacificwhale.org

Protect the Turtles

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Photo: Courtesy of @MauiOceanCenter

Did you know you should always keep 15 to 20 feet away from sea turtles, whether they’re in the water or basking on the sand, and never try to feed them or touch them?  You can help spread the word as a volunteer with the year-round Honu Watch. Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund’s Dawn Patrol, Night Patrol and Nest Watch programs also rely on volunteers and interns to protect the eggs and hatchlings of green sea turtles and hawksbills (honu‘ea) during nesting season, May through October. 

More info: Hawai‘i Wildlife Foundation, various locations, wildhawaii.org

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