Hawaiʻi Wildlife Fund at the US Supreme Court for the Maui Injection Wells Lawsuit – Photo by Nina Totenburg

Hawaiʻi Wildlife Fund in Action

Hawaiʻi Wildlife Fund’s team is small but mighty. A highly effective organization run by energetic leaders, we accomplish a lot with the funds that support us. Below you’ll find a quick glimpse of our most recent initiatives to turn the tide for the ocean.

Me ke aloha pumehana,

Hannah Bernard, HWF Executive Director

A Landmark Decision

In 2020, the fate of the nation’s clean water hung in the balance in County of Maui v. Hawaiʻi Wildlife Fund. Ultimately, the nation’s highest court sided with clean water advocates in a decades-long legal dispute involving a wastewater treatment plant, its pollution discharges, and a partially dead coral reef in Hawaiʻi. Read more about history of this case in “Maui Injection Well Lawsuit – US Supreme Court Case”.

Called the “Clean Water Act case of the century”, Hawaiʻi Wildlife Fund et al., vs County of Maui is a citizen lawsuit filed in 2012 by HWF and co-plaintiffs Sierra Club, Surfrider Foundation and West Maui Preservation Association. The case was successfully defended by Hawaiʻi’s Earthjustice in two lower courts (Hawaiʻi Supreme Court and then appealed by the County to the Ninth Circuit) before being elevated to the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) by Maui County in 2020. Once again, in a resounding majority win at the US Supreme Court, Earthjustice prevailed on behalf of the coral reefs which were being destroyed by wastewater coming from the County’s injection well facility.

HWF does not enter into lawsuits often, in fact, HWF has been co-plaintiff in only two lawsuits over the course of its 24 year history.  The injection well case has been fought for the last twelve years with HWF’s deep and continued engagement, including four years of fruitless negotiations with the County prior to filing suit.  We want to stop the legal battling and focus on solving the problem.  Your support is welcome to help us protect our coral reef ecosystems!


Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund and Conservation Council for Hawai‘i, represented by Earthjustice, brought suit in 2019 to block the replacement of approximately 4,800 streetlight fixtures across Maui County with new LED fixtures that threaten to kill or injure critically imperiled seabirds and sea turtles by light pollution. The County of Maui’s Department of Public Works violated the Hawai‘i Environmental Policy Act (aka “HEPA”) by moving forward with the project, in conjunction with Maui Electric Company, without the legally mandated environmental review. CLICK HERE for details on the case.

In March 2021 an agreement was reached between Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund, Conservation Council for Hawai‘i, and the Department of Public of Works of the County of Maui. CLICK HERE for details of the agreement..

Your support is welcome to help us protect native wildlife and reduce light pollution across the pae ‘āina!

For the past two plus decades, HWF team members have removed marine debris off our shorelines. From this experience we recognize that plastics are a huge portion of the trash along our coasts and a real threat to native wildlife and habitats. While lots of the debris we collect that washes on our windward-facing beaches from around the North Pacific Gyre, there are still many types of plastics (mostly packaging) that are coming from more local sources, and therefore are easier to prevent. In the manner of “thinking global, and acting locally” we have been advocating for County and State governments to help in the marine debris prevention efforts. HWF team members participated in Maui and Hawai‘i County plastic bag reduction initiatives in 2010 and 2011, respectively, and we were happy to see these take effect the following year.

As Kaua‘i County had already passed their ordinance in 2009 and O ‘ahu followed suit in 2012, Hawai‘i became the first state in the nation to effectively ban the use of plastic grocery store bags. Just for fun, one of our then team members, Katie Woollven, even showed up at a Hilo Council hearing disguised as a “plastic bag monster” for the shock effect of one individual’s average usage of plastic to-go bags annually. Together, we can choose to re-use and opt out of single-use plastics like bags!

Why stop at plastic bags? Next on the list of plastic packaging that we can do without was expanded polystyrene “PS” foam (aka Styrofoam). This particular type of plastic is especially apt to become pollution because it is so light and travels easily with winds and currents. HWF team members worked tirelessly for several years (and over different Council sessions) on both Maui and Hawai‘i Island before these foam reduction bills were passed into law in 2017 and 2018, respectively. At the end of 2018 (on Maui) and mid 2019 (on Hawai‘i) it became illegal to sell prepared food on PS foam containers, with several exemptions for eggs, meat, etc. This effort has only currently passed on these two counties but Kaua‘i is working on amending their proposed Bill 2775 right now (September 2020).

HWF efforts on Maui and Hawai‘i were supported by other local NGO groups, including Foam Free Hawai‘i, Recycle Hawai‘i, Kokua Hawai‘i Foundation, Sustainable Coastlines Hawai‘i, Love the Sea and Surfrider’s Kona and Hilo Chapters. Drop us a line to learn more about the process and get involved to help curb foam in your community!

So what’s next for marine debris prevention in Hawai‘i related to policy?

HWF continues to collect data along the shores to help support plastic pollution reduction campaigns and there is starting to be a groundswell of support across the state (and nationwide) to reduce local sources of single-use plastics. For example, in December 2019, the Honolulu City & County Council (representing the entire island of O‘ahu – where an estimated 72% of the state’s population resides) successfully passed Bill 40 which phases out the use of plastic bags, polystyrene foam foodware, along with plastic containers, cups, lids and other single-use service items over the course of two years. HWF Board member, John Elkjer, co-owner of Sustainable Island Products, was there throughout the process and testified in person (we submitted written testimony for this Honolulu bill along with the statewide endeavor in 2019 (SB522) that passed without teeth, but with a working group. We hope to move forward with similar and sweeping single-use plastic bans around the state (county by county if we must).

On that end, Maui County Council passed their own sweeping plastics foodware reduction ordinance in April 2020 that will go into effect in January 2021 (this legislation includes plastic utensils, straws, coffee stirrers, chopsticks, cocktail pricks, etc. but customers may ask for plastic versions). Meanwhile, our team is currently working with Councilmembers on Hawai‘i Island to move forward with a single-use plastics bill for the big island ASAP. With or without policy support, we can ALL choose to re-use and opt out of single-use plastics like utensils, to-go containers, coffee cups, etc. by bringing our own containers.

Also, please join us to support your local businesses that have already phased out plastic to-go ware and made it a priority to seek more eco-friendly alternatives!

Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund was on the front lines of advocacy for Hawai‘i state Senate Bill 2571, which related to water pollution and passed into law in July 2018. Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund took out ads in Maui Times sharing that, “Oxybenzone poses a threat to sea turtle nests and hatchling development.” Additionally, HWF partnered with Eyes of the Reef Network where members and volunteers sent in personal testimonies to their representatives on this issue. This helped the legislature determine that two chemicals contained in many sunscreens, Oxybenzone and Octinoxate, have significant harmful impacts on Hawai‘i’s marine species, including coral reefs that protect our shorelines and provide habitat for hundreds of species.

The legislature further found environmental contamination of these chemical pollutants persist in Hawai‘i’s coastal waters, and is constantly refreshed and renewed every day by swimmers and beachgoers. Beginning in January 2021, it became unlawful to sell or distribute any sunscreen that contains either Oxybenzone and / or Octinoxate in the state, without a prescription issued by a licensed healthcare provider.

However, the law only names these two chemicals; this does not include the derivatives of these chemicals such as Avobenzone, Homosalate, Octocrylene, and Octisalate. Please beware: some sunscreens are labeled as “reef-friendly” or “reef-safe” when they actually aren’t, so it is essential to always check the active ingredients. The only two active ingredients the US FDA considers safe and effective are non-nano Zinc oxide, and Titanium dioxide – both are mineral-based sunscreens. Your support is welcome to help us continue to protect our coral reef ecosystems!

Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund’s core mission is to protect native wildlife in Hawai‘i. We do this through our on-the-ground conservation and restoration efforts, coupled with environmental education and outreach, and advocacy efforts. We choose our battles carefully, when we submit testimony at the County, State, and Federal level.

We do our best to stay informed and submit support for projects slated to protect terrestrial and marine habitats and oppose those that would threaten native species. Some examples include supporting true renewable energy projects and carbon neutrality initiatives, and opposing those that would contribute to the levels of greenhouse gases that are emitted into our atmosphere (like the burning of coal and biomass). Feel free to contact us with any additional questions or information. Your support is welcome to help us continue to help keep Hawai‘i alive and wild!

Plastic items can end up as environmental pollutants and threaten our native wildlife and habitats – join us to opt out of single-use plastics and
encourage your legislators to support local bans and other plastic pollution prevention initiatives.  Photo by K. Lindsey Kramer.