5 Ways You Can Volunteer in Paradise

From Extreme to the Everyday Opportunities

A needle moves from left to right on a dial.

Across the pacific islands we’re working with volunteers and community organizations to restore and protect some of the most incredible places on the planet. Whether you have an afternoon or a year — here are 5 awesome volunteer experiences ranked from the the everyday to the most extreme.

#5 Cleaning Up Paradise

A large group of volunteers gather on a beach in Hawaii. Photo by Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii

What’s the gig

Head out on your own with a plastic bag and some gloves or join one of the many groups organizing clean-up events across the islands every week. Volunteer organizations pick up TENS OF THOUSANDS of pounds of marine debris from the beaches of Hawaiʻi every year!

Volunteer carries a large collection of nets and ropes on the @sustainablecoastlineshawaii instagram.

Why do it

Hawaiʻi is ground zero for marine debris, and it not just the beaches that are harmed. Marine debris hurts wildlife by entangling monk seals and turtles and it is often eaten by seabirds who then feed it to their chicks. The good news is that wherever you can find marine debris, you’ll also find amazing volunteers helping to clean it up.

(Left)Hawaii DLNR employee rescues a sea turtle from marine debris. Photo by Andy Sullivan-Haskins / Hawaii DLNR. (Right) Volunteers with Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii clearn debris from a beach. Photo by Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii

How to get involved

There are many great organizations across the Pacific Islands. 808 Cleanups and Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii are great places to start. In Guam, Keep Guam Beautiful hosts regular clean up events.

What to learn more… Read about how NOAA, the State of Hawaiʻi, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed over 100,000 pounds of marine debris from Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

#4 Hawksbill Turtle Nest Watch

Two hawksbill hatchlings race towards the ocean. Photo by Mika Joiner / Hawaii Wildlife Fund

What’s the gig

Volunteer to help protect critically endangered Hawksbill turtles in Hawaiʻi by patrolling the beach, watching over nests, or volunteering to help build fences.

Volunteers look on as rescued hawksbill hatchlings are released after a nest excavation, photo by Aimee Lemieux/Hawaiʻi Wildlife Fund

What you need to know

Working with sea turtles is NOT a do-it-yourself project. It’s important to work with an official group like Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund. All sea turtles in Hawaii are endangered and federally protected.

Why do it

Because all sea turtles in Hawaiʻi are endangered!

Across Hawaiʻi there are fewer than 100 reproductive female Hawksbill turtles left, and only 6–20 of these will actually nest in any given year.

Since the turtle watch program was founded in 1996, volunteers with Hawaiʻi Wildlife Fund have ensured that over 9,000 hatchlings made it safely to the ocean.

Biologists from the USFWS and Volunteers from Hawaii Wildlife Fund move an endangered Hawksbill turtle nest on the beach. Photos by USFWS
Old growth ohia forest at Hakalau. Photo by USFWS
Volunteers help transplant Koa seedlings from seed beds to pot at the nursery at Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge; photos by J. B. Friday

What’s the gig

On the big island of Hawaiʻi, Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge is a haven where native bird populations are actually increasing…and it’s all thanks to volunteers.

Throughout the year dozens of community members, scout troops, college classes, and eco-tourists come to Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge to raise endangered plants in the nursery, plant native forest habitat, and clear invasive species.

What you need to know

Because the sensitivity of the site, the refuge is closed to normal visitation. You have to go with an organized volunteer group arranged through the refuge.

A good place to start is to contact the Friends of Hakalau Forest. They organize volunteer trips to the refuge throughout the year.

Photos of Hawaiʻian forest birds:
Left to Right — Akepa / J. Jeffrey; Amakihi / J. Jeffrey; Iiwi / D. Clark

Why do it

Hakalau Forest is one of the few places in Hawaiʻi where forest bird populations are actually increasing! For 30 years, volunteers have been restoring the native forest habitat that the birds need, and those efforts have started to push back at the declining bird populations.

Learn more about Hakalau Forest and the Hawaiʻi’s amazing forest birds
Hawaiʻi’s Magnificent Forest Birds
ʻŌhiʻa lehua: the Foundation of Hawaiʻi’s Forest Ecosystem
What’s Killing Hawaiʻi’s Forest Birds?

#2 Midway Atoll Bird Counters

Volunteers count birds in a field of albatross. Photo by USFWS

What’s the gig

For over 20 years, volunteers have been traveling to Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge every winter for the biggest inventory on the planet. They’ll spend 3 weeks methodically counting all 1.2 million albatross who come to the atoll to nest every year. Volunteer bird counters work from 8:00 am — 4:30 pm seven days a week for nearly 20 days!

Clockwise from top left: White tern chick, a pair of Laysan Albatross, a pair of Black-footed albatross, a Red-footed booby, and a mother Laysan duck with chicks. Photos by: K. Lapenta/USFWS
Map focus move from the Hawaiian islands up to Midway Atoll.

What you need to know

Getting to Midway is difficult, expensive, and time-consuming. The Refuge is located within the Papāhanaumokuākea Marine National Monument, approximately 1300 miles northwest of Honolulu. But if you have a passion for wildlife and a several weeks to spare you could have a once in a lifetime experience and contribute to our understanding of the world’s largest albatross colony.

Bird counts take place every year, so watch the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge website for the next recruitment announcement.

Photo of an albatross and chick. Photo by: USFWS / Kiah Walker

Why do it

The work conducted by the Bird Counters on Midway Atoll provides vital information found few places on earth to researchers, managers, and conservation groups. The more we understand about how these birds live, the better we will be able to protect them and their nesting habitats.

Learn more about Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial:

A Laysan Lovesong
Discovering Midway’s Cultural History
Wisdom, the World’s Oldest Known, Banded Wild Bird has a new chick!

#1 The Crazy Ant Strike Teams — Johnston Atoll

A seabird on a branch silhouetted against an orange sunset. Photo by Peter Xiong /USFWS

What’s the gig

Eradicating invasive Yellow-crazy ants at Johnston Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. These invasive pests hitched a ride to the island with the military during the cold war. They over-ran the island and started killing and maiming the baby tropic birds who live there.

Yellow crazy ants move around a nest. Video by Peter Xiong/USFWS

What you need to know

Johnston Atoll is a tiny speck of land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, but it is home to the largest nesting red-tailed tropic bird colony in the world, and more than 15 species of birds rely on the refuge for a safe nesting site.

Crew of C.A.S.T. XIV ; Photo by USFWS

Teams of 4–6 volunteers spend 6 months on the island living in tents with no TV, cell phone service, or reliable internet. There are no resupply trips to Johnston during a deployment, so you better not forget your toothbrush.

Johnston Atoll Through the Eyes of C.A.S.T. ; Video by Peter Xiong /USFWS

Why do it

In just a few years, the Crazy Ant Strike Teams (as the volunteers are called) have eradicated over 98%of the invasive ants. Soon the island will once again be a safe place for seabirds to nest in the vast Pacific Ocean.

White tern chick on Johnston Atoll. Photo by Peter Xiong/USFWS

Do You Have What It Takes? The 15th Crazy Ant Strike Team biological crew departed Honolulu for their 4-day voyage across the Pacific ocean onboard the transport vessel Kahana, in December 2017. For more information on C.A.S.T and how to apply read the position description.

Read more about the C.A.S.T. program.

So get out there and experience the great outdoors in the Pacific Islands!

We’re dedicated to the conservation, protection and enhancement of fish, wildlife and plants, and their habitats.