Rocks, sand, coral mailed back to Hawaii by remorseful tourists

Visitor industry left to deal with rocks, sand being mailed back to Hawaii by remorseful tourists
Published: Sep. 3, 2018 at 10:07 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 4, 2018 at 6:42 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - For decades, visitor industry officials say tourists have been illegally taking pieces of Hawaii home with them -- in the form of rocks, sand, even coral.

But thousands of these objects are mailed back to Hawaii's tourism agencies, hotels, attractions, even restaurants, once visitors learn it's against the law.

"We get packages from China, Canada, the United States, Australia, Japan, Korea -- basically all over the world," said Kalani Kaanaana, Director of Hawaiian Cultural Affairs at the Hawaii Tourism Authority. "People decide to take parts of our Hawaii home, and that's not OK. We have a belief and kinship with the land, and we have a relationship as Native Hawaiians to this place. For us, you're taking part of who we are."

Kaanaana says the items are shipped in boxes and envelopes of all sizes, creating lots of unwanted trash.

"Shipping them back in bubble wrap and styrofoam is not good for our environment as well," he said.

Most packages come with letters of apology, and then there are the stories of unexpected bad luck.

On letter said, "It's true. Bad luck has followed my entire family since our visit in 2001!"

Practitioner of the Hawaiian culture and scientist Sam Ohu Gon says it could be pure coincidence or karma.

"Hawaii is indeed a place full of mana. Every object, the rain, the wind, the stones, the plants and animals, the people who are there. So when you do frivolous things with that kind of power, you're bound to pay for it," said Gon.

Industry officials say this kind of behavior also drains valuable resources.

When returning the objects back to nature, each organization has its own protocol.

"The pohaku and sand and stones and different things will be blessed on our time. We'll try to return it back to that place as best as we can, and others we'll take to a place that we've designated for this purpose. It does take up time of staff to have to deal with these things," Kaanaana said.

Gon says these objects can also come back contaminated, putting Hawaii's natural resources at risk.

"They don't even have to be visible. They could be things like soil pathogens or plant diseases that could come back in on whatever is sent back to the islands," Gon said.

It is against federal law to remove rocks from a national park, and against state law to take sand from any Hawaii beach.

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