Can You Take Sand From Hawaii? (Hawaii Sand Laws Explained)


Hawaii’s sandy beaches, volcanic rock deposits, and unique natural formations are a large part of what makes it such an ideal vacation spot. On your day of departure from the islands, you might want to take a little piece of Hawaii with you by carrying some sand in a bottle or picking up one of the black volcanic rocks from the landscape. However, taking these items home with you can have negative consequences. 

You cannot take sand from Hawaii. Taking sand, rocks, or other natural resources from Hawaii has been illegal since 2013 and is punishable by law and can result in fines of up to $100,000. The law exists because tourists taking sand can quickly deplete the beaches.

As tempting as it might be, taking sand and other natural objects from Hawaii is a bad idea. Let’s discuss why that is and why removing sand from the islands became illegal. I’ll also help you understand what you can and cannot legally take as a memento of your time in Hawaii. 

Why Is It Illegal To Take Sand From Hawaii?

It is illegal to take sand from Hawaii because it depletes the amount of sand on the beaches. When collecting sand from the islands was still legal, overharvesting from tourists began to shrink the beaches, disrupting the ecosystem and pushing the tide closer to businesses.

At first glance, Hawaii’s sands seem as abundant as they are striking, but this resource is in high demand and small supply. 

Before 2013, it was legal to take sand and stones home with you from Hawaii. You could take up to one gallon of sand per person at that time. However, that one-gallon rule added up, considering that 7,998,815 tourists visited Hawaii in 2012 alone. Over the years, as tourists took more and more sand, there was little room left to walk on some of Hawaii’s most popular beaches. 

By 2013, these beaches were in crisis. According to the testimonies from a meeting of the Hawaiian Department of Land and Natural Resources, erosion had rapidly increased on the Hawaiian coastline, particularly in Maui.  

To remedy the rapidly shrinking beaches and rising coastlines, the Hawaiian government undertook a sand recovery program and passed new laws to protect Hawaiian sands. 

During the recovery program, beach specialists recovered sand from deeper in the ocean and returned it to the coastlines of the most depleted beaches. They made the beaches walkable again, protected the ecosystem, and saved businesses such as hotels and restaurants from flooding. 

Hawaii also implemented a new state statute to prevent people from contributing to the erosion on the Hawaiian beaches. Statute 205A-44 – Prohibitions made it illegal to take home sand, coral, and rocks when visiting Hawaii. 

However, according to this law, you can still collect seashells, sea glass, and other items from the coast, as long as you don’t pick up sand, coral, or rocks. You also won’t get in trouble for accidentally coming home with sand in your clothes, shoes, or other personal items. 

On the other hand, if you intentionally attempt to take sand from Hawaii and get caught, you could be subject to fines of up to $100,000. 

If you want to learn more about why it’s critical to prevent ecological change and preserve the beaches in Hawaii, check out my post about when Hawaii will be underwater (Will Hawaii Be Underwater?) about how climate change and rising oceans might eventually submerge this tropical paradise. 

Does Taking Sand From Hawaii Bring You Bad Luck? 

Taking sand from Hawaii might bring you bad luck. According to myth, bad luck will follow anyone who tries to take things like sand, stones, plants, coral, and other features of the natural Hawaiian landscape home with them. This phenomenon is called Pele’s curse. 

Pele, a Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes, plays an integral part in the Hawaiian pantheon, just as the volcanoes that formed the Hawaiian islands play a critical role in the landscape. 

Pele is a fiery, fierce goddess, and according to the legends, she won’t hesitate to curse you if you move lava rocks, plants such as Pele’s Hair, or sand from their spots on the islands. If you take any natural feature of Hawaii with you, the curse is supposed to follow you until you return the object to its original place. 

While many people might think this curse is just a meaningless superstition (and this may well be the case), some people have experienced the adverse effects of Pele’s curse. 

Kalani Kaanaana, Director of Hawaiian Cultural Affairs, told Hawaiian News Now that he regularly receives packages that contain stolen lava rocks, sand, and other natural objects in the mail. 

Many of these packages contain notes from people who expressed that they had been victims of Pele’s curse and thus were returning the items to make amends and end their streak of lousy luck.

Divorces, alcoholism, financial failures, and career loss are common themes in these letters. While these turn of events might be by happenstance, they might also be Pele’s curse. So, it’s not just the law that should be preventing you from taking sand from Hawaii. It’s also the threat of Pele’s fiery rage. 

What Can You Bring Back From Hawaii? 

Some items you can bring back from Hawaii include sea glass, driftwood, sticks, empty seashells, some leis, Spanish moss, USDA-treated fruits, coffee, dried seeds, coconuts, and wood roses. 

The USDA clearly outlines objects you can bring home from your trip to Hawaii. These natural items are legal to carry in stowed or carry-on luggage as long as they can pass a USDA inspection. 

These inspections check for potential invasive pests and diseases that could harm the present ecosystem of any state in the continental USA. So, if your items don’t make it home with you, it’s probably for the best. You don’t want to be the reason why a new invasive species wiped out all the crops in the USA, after all. 

If you check out the USDA website linked above, you might also notice that they will permit you to take Hawaiian beach sand home with you. This legal loophole exists because Hawaiian beach sand is only under the jurisdiction of Hawaii state law, and federal law does not prohibit you from bringing the sand home. 

However, it would be best to obey Hawaiian state law while there. If not just to avoid the legal consequences, leaving the land the way you found it will help keep Hawaii beautiful and is a gesture of respect for native Hawaiians – and, as an added benefit, it helps you avoid Pele’s curse!

Conclusion

Taking sand from Hawaii is illegal under Hawaiian State Law, and it might even get you cursed by Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes. So, you should never attempt to bring Hawaiian sand back home with you. 

Hawaiian people are tied to their land, which is imbued with mana, or the force of life. Even the sand, stones, and coral on the beaches have this Hawaiian spirit, and even though you might want to bring that spirit home with you, it belongs in its home of Hawaii. 

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