7 Eco-Warriors Weigh in on How to Live a Sustainable Life in Hawai‘i

From educators to a fishery-to-table liaison, these local eco-warriors give us their suggestions to live more sustainably.


This article was originally published on April 17, 2019. It was updated on June 7, 2021 by Eve Huddleston.


Sustainable Coastlines Shaka

Photo: Courtesy of Sustainable Coastlines Hawaiʻi



Who thought it would take a pandemic for Hawai‘i to realize just how much of an impact visitors and residents have on our environment? The decrease in visitors as well as the pause in simple daily activities gave Hawai‘i’s environment a much-needed break and chance to rejuvenate. The Islands have certainly seen the benefits. Kaimana Beach, in particular, has been a popular spot for animals to enjoy the empty beach and clear water. In September 2020, large bait balls came within 20 yards of shore, drawing multiple white tip reef sharks close to the beach, and last month a monk seal pup was born in the area. This increase in wildlife was not the only success. In April, the state banned food vendors from providing single-use plastics such as utensils and bags and in late May became the first state to officially declare a climate emergency.


Yet, Hawai‘i is still facing the ongoing challenge of reaching its sustainability goals. The work of these eco-warriors, however, is helping the state achieve them. These individuals continue to advocate for and implement change in our communities in the hopes of making positive strides toward a more environmentally viable tomorrow.


We honor those who continue to do unrelenting work for the environment, and above all, treat every day like it’s World Oceans Day (June 8).



David Aquino

Creative Director at Blue Planet Foundation

David Aquino

Photo: Marisa Hartzell



Hometown: Kalihi, O‘ahu, Hawai‘i


Biggest accomplishment for the environment: “The statewide CFL Bulb Blitz. We exchanged every light bulb on the island of Moloka‘i from old incandescents to the (at the time) energy-saving CFLs. We did 36,000 bulbs on Moloka‘i, took that model to every island in the state and ended up doing over 300,000 exchanges to CFLs and LEDs. It was set to save residents, over the next eight to 10 years, 42 million dollars amongst every island.”


What can someone do to live more sustainably: “Be more conscious of how you’re using energy in your home and how you’re using energy to transport yourself.”


blueplanetfoundation.org, @blueplanetfound


SEE ALSO: Should Honolulu’s Recycling Program Go Up in Flames?


Natalie McKinney

Senior Program Director of Kōkua Hawai‘i Foundation

Nicole McKinney

Photo: Marisa Hartzell



Hometown: North Shore, O‘ahu


Biggest accomplishment for the environment: “One significant accomplishment has been the partnership with Hawai‘i’s Department of Education, particularly around Farm-to-School programming. We have built gardens on school campuses and have been successful in getting local food on the school lunch plate. Students are taking these lessons home and starting compost bins, worm bins and [having] a greater awareness of the environment. Also, seeing student activism on a higher level, particularly at the legislature, has been especially rewarding.”


What can someone do to live more sustainably: “Participate in the great outdoors. Go to the beach or go on a hike. The only way someone can truly care for something is if they fall in love with it, so make a direct connection to it and the rest will follow.”


kokuahawaiifoundation.org, @kokuahawaiifoundation


SEE ALSO: Jack Johnson on Staying Local, Environmentalism and Superstardom​


Ashley Watts

Managing Partner and Owner of Local I‘a

Ashley Watts

Photo: Marisa Hartzell



Hometown: Wewahitchka, Florida


What Local I‘a does: The group provides sustainably caught or raised seafood from local fishermen to chefs and consumers who pay in advance to get a shipment each week: providing transparency in how the fish was caught and where it comes from.


Biggest accomplishment for the environment: “With Local I‘a, we’re starting to get fishermen to ask what is needed and what is requested from the community instead of just fishing for anything. We’re actually making a difference with the local populations and trying to get them to target the species that are not overfished and getting the customers to [become familiar with] more species other than the normal ones you hear of, so they can relieve the pressures on those populations.”


What can someone do to live more sustainably: “Be a mindful consumer. Inquire about the origin and choose to support certain businesses because they have higher values and sustainability in mind.”


localiahawaii.com, @localiahawaii


SEE ALSO: What to Expect From an Environmentally-Friendly Cooking Class


Rebecca Mattos

Education Director at Sustainable Coastlines Hawaiʻi

Rebecca Mattos

Photo: Marisa Hartzell



Hometown: San Francisco, California


Biggest accomplishment for the environment: “Being able to educate over 15,000 students about plastic pollution and ways to protect our oceans and coastlines.”


What can someone do to live more sustainably: “Be able to educate yourself and others about what you’re using in your everyday life. Be able to tell the difference between something you really need and something you’re only buying out of convenience, and be able to share that with other people.”




SEE ALSO: These 9 Stylish Eco-Friendly Products Will Help You Save The Planet


Anny Barlow

Co-Coordinator at Ocean Friendly Restaurants Hawai‘i

Anny Barlow

Photo: Marisa Hartzell



Hometown: Kailua, O‘ahu


What Ocean Friendly Restaurants Hawaiʻi does: Recognizes local restaurants for providing plastic-free and ocean-friendly practices, spanning from utilizing compostable or reusable utensils to having proper recycling practices.


Biggest accomplishment for the environment: “With now over 200 local restaurants working with Ocean Friendly Restaurants Hawai‘i, my co-coordinator Natalie Wohner and I work to educate these restaurants so that it has a positive impact on our local culture.”


What can someone do to live more sustainably: “Carry a reusable utensil set on you and remember to use it!”


surfrider.org, @ofrhawaii


SEE ALSO: 10 Local Ocean-Friendly Restaurants on O‘ahu to Try Now


Camilo Mora

Associate Professor at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa in the Department of Geography and the Environment

Camilo Mora

Mora looks over the propogated seedlings for his tree planting this year, in which he hopes to plant more than 10,000 trees in one day. Photo: Marisa Hartzell



Hometown: Palmira, Colombia


Biggest accomplishment for the environment: “While I have made a lot of accomplishments scientifically, contributing to the understanding of how bad things are for the planet on the student level as well as the public level is one of my biggest accomplishments.”


What can someone do to live more sustainably: “Plant 10 trees every year. Ten trees can offset any [carbon emissions] that you produce on average.”


geography.manoa.hawaii.edu, @CSS_UHManoa


SEE ALSO: 7 Eco-Friendly Cups, Flasks and Bottles You Can Buy on O‘ahu


Nicole Chatterson

Director of Zero Waste O‘ahu

Nicole Chatterson

Photo: Marisa Hartzell



Hometown: Palmdale, California


What Zero Waste Oʻahu does: Provides zero-waste education, resources and programs to promote a zero-waste mindset as well as civic engagement.


Biggest accomplishment for the environment: “Working on the state’s Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan, because when we showed up, there wasn’t a lot of discussion of the possibility of reducing the amount of trash that comes onto or is generated from the island, and when we left, there was an understanding that it was possible.”


What can someone do to live more sustainably? “Pay attention. We are connected, so what you do impacts this place, which then impacts you, your family and the ‘āina.”


zerowasteoahu.org, @zerowaste_oahu