As Hawaii Volcanoes National Park’s busy summer season comes to a close, rangers are expressing their frustration with the disrespect shown at the park’s multiple steam vents. Visitors have consistently used these steam vents as a “wishing well” to throw large amounts of coins and debris into. It’s primarily been happening at the popular attraction Wahinekapu (Steaming Bluff), atop the summit of Kīlauea.
While this has been occurring for years, park officials recently made a social media post urging the public to follow the “leave no trace” policy more seriously. Park rangers stated that there used to be signage indicating no littering, but that those signs were stolen.
The problem with throwing coins into the steam vents
Tossing coins into the vents may seem like an innocent action, especially when multiple people are doing it. However, it can cause some serious problems for park staff, other visitors, and the Native Hawaiian people. Besides the level of disrespect associated with littering in a National Park, there are several safety concerns:
- Park staff and rangers must periodically clean out the debris from these steam vents, possibly exposing themselves to burns. Not only is this potentially dangerous, but it’s a waste of park resources to have to clean up after visitors.
- With money involved, visitors may be tempted to descend into the vents and retrieve some of the coins. Multiple people suffer severe burns at the park every year.
Besides the dangers associated with littering, it’s also offensive to the Native Hawaiian people who utilize these steam vents in their cultural practices. The steam, or māhu, is used by Hawaiians to cleanse themselves before engaging in cultural protocol at the Kīlauea summit. Many Native families come to the area to heal themselves after being sick, whereas others use the vents as a place for offerings in the form of chant and dance.
Park rangers equate littering to “dumping your trash in a church or on your grandmother’s doorstep.”
How do these steam vents form?
The various steam vents found throughout Hawaii Volcanoes National Park are formed by magma found deep below the surface. As groundwater seeps downward, it encounters scorching hot rocks that are heated by this magma. These rocks are so hot that it causes the water to instantly vaporize and rise to the surface in the form of steam. This steam can be 145 degrees Fahrenheit or more, enough to prevent trees from growing in the area.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is located on the Big Island and encompasses 323,431 acres. There are two active volcanoes present in the park: Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. Scientists use the park to study volcanoes and geothermal activity, and there are several hiking trails and wilderness areas available for visitors to enjoy.
Leave no trace and protect your National Parks
Although National Parks receive millions of visitors a year, on par with the leading commercial tourist attractions, they are not amusement parks. These areas are designated as refuges for natural beauty, wildlife populations, and geological phenomena. It’s easy to treat them like just another vacation destination, but without the proper respect and care, they’ll quickly deteriorate.
Let’s keep our National Parks clean for generations to come.
- Shameful vandalism, trash, human waste at all-time high in recreation areas
- The trashing of our public lands. Case in point