HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A recent online advertisement by the vacation rental company Airbnb was pulled Thursday after Hawaii residents pointed out that it showed the hand of a tourist illegally touching a Hawaiian green sea turtle.
The 55-second video ad, which was posted to Facebook on Monday, featured a family vacationing on Oahu. In it, the family tells their Airbnb host that they want to see turtles, so he points them in the right direction.
The video then shows the family swimming with – and touching – the sea creatures, an act that sparked outrage on social media.
Even though the ad has been pulled, some Hawaii residents say the company's apparent lack of cultural awareness is fueling debate over illegal vacation rentals.
"They're really enabling people to do this, to break our current laws about natural resources, to break our laws about where you can hike. I see this as just the start," said Mike Biechler, executive director of Friends Against Illegal Rentals.
Biechler says the ad has drawn major concerns from people on both sides of the vacation rentals debate – and that Airbnb hosts should not promote irresponsible activities.
"You're going to have more people saying, 'I can show you a cool place no one knows. I can take you to this spot where you can do this thing you couldn't do,'" Biechler said.
The company released an apology on Friday, saying that they "deeply regret the actions captured in this post and expects all hosts and visitors to respect local wildlife and apologizes for sharing a video that falls short of those standards. We will take steps to further educate our community on proper guidelines for interacting with local marine life."
Green sea turtles are listed as a threatened species under federal and state law, and it's illegal to disturb them.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the fines for disturbing a green sea turtle can vary from several hundred dollars to up to $100,000, or even imprisonment for one year, depending on the severity of the violation.
Volunteers with Malama Na Honu educate visitors at Laniakea Beach on Oahu's North Shore – a popular hang out for sea turtles – about the proper way to treat these sea creatures.
"She told us all about the rules. We have to be at least three meters away from the turtles, and don't touch them, or do anything to disturb them," said Payam Shodjai, who is visiting from New York.
"Most importantly, it's just being aware and educated as to why we give them (turtles) their space," said Lolita Ayala, a volunteer with Malama Na Honu.