Paradise on Fire

Beautiful, crystal blue water churns as people jump in to escape the raging flames. Ancient palm trees sway in the breeze before falling, stirring up the ashes as they hit the ground. In what once was a peaceful retreat stirs an island of nightmares. 

On August 8, 2023, a wildfire started on Maui, the second largest island of Hawaii. The fire flourished in the dry conditions caused by a drought and was carried by the strong winds from Hurricane Dora. According to ABC News, 115 people have been killed so far, with more casualties likely to come as authorities search the island. While this tragedy seems like a clear reason to put off the family vacay, there are still tourists arriving at Maui airport. Hawaiian natives are incensed that vacationers are getting their tan on at a five-star resort, while they are homeless. This clear display of tone-deafness is a pattern that has slowly been killing Hawaii. The biggest and most dangerous pest on Hawaii’s islands is the American tourist. 

Since the bloody beginning of Hawaii’s statehood, America has left a harmful footprint on the islands. Tourism may be the state’s largest industry, but it has caused irrevocable damage to its economy, environment and people. 

Natives suffer major economic losses from the invasion of money-hungry tourists. Corporations have stolen the land of natives, forcing them to lose their land while simultaneously creating an unaffordable housing market. This gentrification has also escalated to a point where Hawaii has the highest cost of living and most expensive housing market in the United States. According to the Oahu Real Estate Report, an average price for a single-family home costs over one million dollars. Natives also tend to get paid well below livable wage by non-locals, leaving them with little to no opportunity for success. 

Hawaii is often regarded as one of the most stunning places on Earth. But this beauty has been fading due to tourists’ reckless actions. Hawaii’s natural resources have been allocated to tourists before its own citizens. Natural bodies of water have been contaminated by pollution and water shortages are occurring in the environment and natives’ homes. The diverse ecosystem has also been under siege by non-locals. Non-native organisms like pigs, goats, insects, rats and plants introduced by tourists have outcompeted and ravished the forests. Additionally, according to The Nature Conservancy, Hawaii has lost almost half of its native forest cover due to logging and land development. 

Many tourists believe that seeing hula dancers in straw skirts and coconut bras is an “authentic Hawaiian experience.” However, Hawaii has a deep and genuine cultural identity that has been erased. The U.S government banned the Hawaiian language once the islands were conquered. However, according to the University of Hawaii, the language is slowly being reborn with younger generations. Hawaii is unique, containing the most ethnic and cultural groups in any U.S. state, and natives work hard to maintain that colorful history, despite the stereotypes and restrictions placed on them by tourists. 

There is no denying the appeal of Hawaii. However, it is time to let the islands heal their wounds. So, before you pick up that Hawaiian shirt and straw hat, think to yourself if you are truly wanted in our 50th state.