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The pristine coral reefs surrounding the Hawaiian islands are some of the most beautiful in the world, so it’s understandable that a visitor may be tempted to take home a souvenir. However, removing or damaging any coral in Hawaii is extremely harmful to the fragile ocean ecosystem. Strict laws and penalties are in place to discourage people from taking coral, with fines up to $20,000 for a first offense.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: It is illegal to take coral from Hawaii’s reefs. Heavy fines and even jail time can result from coral poaching.

Background on Coral Reefs in Hawaii

Hawaii’s Coral Reefs Are Uniquely Diverse and Fragile

When it comes to coral reefs, Hawaii is home to some of the most diverse and fragile ecosystems in the world. The islands are surrounded by vibrant coral reefs that host an incredible variety of marine life.

In fact, Hawaii has over 1,200 species of fish and more than 80 species of coral, making it a true paradise for snorkelers, divers, and marine biologists alike. The archipelago’s isolation, warm waters, and unique geological features contribute to the incredible biodiversity found in its coral reefs.

However, despite their beauty and importance, Hawaii’s coral reefs are facing numerous threats. Climate change, pollution, overfishing, and coastal development are all taking a toll on these delicate ecosystems.

Rising ocean temperatures and ocean acidification caused by climate change can lead to coral bleaching, a phenomenon where corals expel the algae living within their tissues, resulting in their death.

Additionally, pollution from land-based sources, such as agricultural runoff and sewage, can smother corals and inhibit their growth. It is crucial that we take steps to protect and preserve these valuable ecosystems.

Coral Plays a Vital Role in Hawaii’s Ecosystem and Economy

Coral reefs are not just beautiful underwater landscapes; they also play a vital role in the overall health and functioning of Hawaii’s ecosystem.

Coral reefs provide habitat and shelter for a wide range of species, including fish, crustaceans, and mollusks. They act as nurseries for many commercially important fish species, supporting Hawaii’s fishing industry. 

Furthermore, coral reefs protect shorelines from erosion by absorbing wave energy, reducing the impact of storms and hurricanes.

In addition to their ecological importance, coral reefs are also a significant economic asset to the state of Hawaii. The tourism industry heavily relies on the vibrant coral reefs that attract visitors from around the world. Snorkeling, scuba diving, and other ocean-related activities generate billions of dollars annually, supporting local businesses and providing employment opportunities.

Preserving and conserving Hawaii’s coral reefs is not only crucial for maintaining the health of the environment but also for sustaining the economy.

For more information about the importance of coral reefs and ongoing conservation efforts in Hawaii, you can visit the website of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources. They offer valuable resources and updates on coral reef management and protection initiatives in the state.

Laws Protecting Hawaii’s Coral Reefs

When it comes to the beautiful coral reefs in Hawaii, it is important to understand the laws that are in place to protect them. These laws are crucial for preserving the delicate ecosystem and ensuring the long-term sustainability of these incredible natural wonders.

Let’s take a closer look at the laws that protect Hawaii’s coral reefs.

Federal Laws Prohibit Taking Coral Species

At the federal level, there are strict laws in place that prohibit the taking of any coral species from Hawaiian waters. This means that it is illegal to remove coral, whether dead or alive, from the ocean or any other marine environment in Hawaii.

These laws are enforced by agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

These federal laws are in place to prevent the overharvesting of coral, which can have devastating consequences for the entire reef ecosystem. By protecting coral species, these laws help preserve the biodiversity and ecological balance of Hawaii’s coral reefs, ensuring that future generations can continue to enjoy their beauty.

Hawaii State Laws Specifically Protect All Coral

In addition to federal laws, Hawaii has its own state laws that specifically protect all coral species found within its waters. These state laws are even more comprehensive and provide additional safeguards for Hawaii’s coral reefs.

Under Hawaii state laws, it is illegal to take, damage, or destroy any coral, including both live and dead coral, without a permit. This applies to individuals, commercial entities, and even researchers. Violators of these laws can face severe penalties, including fines and imprisonment.

The state of Hawaii takes the protection of its coral reefs seriously, and these laws reflect their commitment to preserving these valuable natural resources. By enforcing these laws, Hawaii aims to maintain the health and vitality of its coral reefs, which are not only crucial for the environment but also play a significant role in the state’s tourism industry.

For more information on the laws protecting Hawaii’s coral reefs, you can visit the official website of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources. Here, you will find detailed information about the laws, regulations, and permits related to coral conservation in Hawaii.

Also read: Can You Take Lava Rocks From Hawaii?

Penalties for Taking Coral from Hawaii

If you are considering taking coral from Hawaii, it is important to be aware of the severe penalties that can be imposed for this illegal act. The protection and preservation of Hawaii’s fragile coral reefs is of utmost importance, and the state has implemented strict regulations to ensure their survival.

Fines Up to $20,000 for a First Offense

For a first offense of taking coral from Hawaii, individuals can face fines of up to $20,000. This hefty penalty serves as a deterrent to discourage people from unlawfully removing coral from the reefs. The high fine amount reflects the seriousness of the offense and the commitment of the state to protect its natural resources.

It is important to note that these fines can vary depending on the severity of the offense and the value of the coral taken. Factors such as the size and rarity of the coral, as well as the impact on the reef ecosystem, may be taken into consideration when determining the final amount of the fine.

Jail Time is Possible for Repeat Offenders

Repeat offenders who continue to take coral from Hawaii can face even more severe penalties, including the possibility of jail time. The state takes a strong stance against those who repeatedly violate the laws protecting the coral reefs.

The length of the jail sentence will depend on various factors, such as the number of previous offenses, the amount of coral taken, and the impact on the reef ecosystem. It is crucial to understand that the consequences for repeat offenses can be much more severe and can have long-lasting implications on a person’s freedom and reputation.

To avoid these penalties and contribute to the preservation of Hawaii’s coral reefs, it is important to respect the regulations in place. Instead of taking coral, consider enjoying the beauty of the reefs through responsible and sustainable tourism practices.

By doing so, we can ensure that future generations will also have the opportunity to experience the wonders of these magnificent underwater ecosystems.

Also read: Can You Take Driftwood From Hawaii?

How to Enjoy Hawaii’s Reefs Responsibly

When visiting the beautiful reefs of Hawaii, it is important to do so in a responsible and sustainable manner. The fragile coral ecosystems are home to a diverse array of marine life and play a crucial role in maintaining the health of our oceans.

By following a few simple guidelines, you can enjoy the beauty of Hawaii’s reefs while minimizing your impact on these delicate ecosystems.

Snorkel and Dive Without Disturbing Any Coral

One of the best ways to experience Hawaii’s reefs up close is by snorkeling or diving. However, it is essential to do so without causing any harm to the coral. One way to achieve this is by practicing good buoyancy control.

This means avoiding touching or standing on the coral, as even a gentle touch can cause long-lasting damage. Instead, float above the coral formations and admire their beauty from a safe distance.

Remember, coral is a living organism, and it takes years for it to grow and recover from damage.

Furthermore, be mindful of your fins. Ensure they do not come into contact with the coral, as they can easily break or dislodge fragile branches. It’s also important to be aware of your surroundings and avoid kicking up sand or stirring up sediment, as this can smother the coral and prevent it from receiving sunlight for photosynthesis.

Photograph Beautiful Coral Formations

If you’re interested in capturing the beauty of Hawaii’s coral formations, photography can be a fantastic way to do so. By taking stunning underwater photographs, you can share the wonders of these reefs with others and raise awareness about their importance.

When photographing coral, however, it’s crucial to be mindful of your equipment and how you position yourself.

Avoid getting too close to the coral, as this can result in accidental damage. Instead, use zoom lenses or wide-angle lenses to capture the coral from a safe distance. This way, you can still capture breathtaking images without causing harm to the delicate ecosystem.

Purchase Coral Jewelry from Responsible Local Artisans

While it is generally not recommended to take coral from Hawaii, there are ways to support local artisans who create jewelry using responsibly sourced coral. These artisans follow sustainable practices and only use coral that has been legally harvested or collected from natural beach wash-ups.

By purchasing coral jewelry from these responsible artisans, you can enjoy the beauty of coral while also supporting the local economy and promoting sustainable practices.

Remember, when it comes to enjoying Hawaii’s reefs, it’s all about respect and preservation. By following these guidelines, you can help protect these fragile ecosystems for future generations to enjoy.

Also read: Can You Take Seashells From Hawaii Beaches Legally?


Hawaii’s coral reefs are majestic, but also extremely fragile. Strict laws with hefty penalties discourage visitors from taking corals, shells, or other marine specimens. Enjoy the beauty of Hawaii’s underwater worlds without disturbing anything so future generations can appreciate the awe-inspiring reefs. Take only photos, leave only bubbles.

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