KALALAU — It was nearly 5 p.m. on a Saturday when Merton Davalos’ camera captured something illegal happening on the western valley rim near the Kalalau Lookout.
“People, stringing decorations on a tree in Kalalau Valley, (on the) top ridge,” Davalos told TGI when he sent in the photos. “Is it legal? Has it been removed?”
The photos show a group of seven people wrapping garlands, ornaments and other decorations around a bare tree that hangs out along the edge of the cliffs. In several of the photos, one of the people is holding a camera.
The tree, according to Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, State Parks division, is not in Kalalau proper and is likely in a closed area, according to a statement sent to TGI.
“People sneak around or climb over the railing and there is an unauthorized trail that has become quite popular, probably due to social media,” the statement said.
Hawaii law prohibits this kind of activity, mandating that “all persons shall dispose of garbage, trash, refuse, waste material and rubbish of any kind only at places designated for its disposal, or shall remove it from the premises.”
Fines could be up to $500, and not less than $100 for each littering offense, according to state law.
“It would be difficult to determine who is decorating the tree and trying to cite them,” said Dan Dennison, spokesman for DLNR. “State Parks maintenance staff will be removing the decorations on their next visit.”
Social media has also inspired some people to risk life, limb and freedom for the perfect photo to post, sometimes to destructive ends.
The New York Times reported “people in the search of the perfect ‘selfie’ have tumbled down the stairs of the Taj Mahal and off bridges in Russia; and have cozied up to rattlesnakes, loaded guns and grenades.”
In February on Kauai, a man was swept into the sea from a dangerous shoreline known as Queen’s Bath while taking a photo on the rocks.
While Hawaii’s trails, forest reserves and ocean shorelines are beautiful areas, people need to be prepared for and be aware of their environment.
“Taking photos, including selfies, is encouraged, however it should not be the motive to place one’s self in unsafe situations, or ignore the safety awareness of the environment around them,” said Jason Redulla, acting administrator of the Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement.
The main concern, he said, is when people are intentionally entering dangerous places or situations just to get a photo of themselves.
“This not only jeopardizes people’s safety, but also the safety of the first responders and other emergency response personnel who may have to initiate a rescue of this person should they become injured,” Redulla said.
The cycle doesn’t stop there, though. In addition to facing possible citations and/or arrest if caught in the act, distributing those photos through social media gives others the idea to try the same thing.
“We have seen an increase in people climbing over barriers, venturing into areas that are closed, and pushing the limits for that photo to post on social media,” said Sue Kanoho, of Kauai Visitor’s Bureau. “We also have seen many people ask exactly where and how to get to the place shown in the post.”
Kanoho said she’s seen people promoting wedding ceremonies from the top of Wailua Falls on Facebook, which “is not only illegal, but culturally inappropriate.”
She’s also encountered professional yoga shots circulated on social media taken at the top of Wailua Falls, which falls in the category of commercial activity and requires a film permit and a permit from DLNR.
“It seems some people are all about ‘getting the shot’ at all costs, with no real consideration to trespassing, breaking the rules/laws, or being inconsiderate to those around them,” Kanoho said. “When visiting any destination, one should be sensitive about the place and any cultural significance.”
Another good rule to remember, according to DLNR, is the “you pack it in, you pack it out” rule, meaning it’s not a good idea to leave things behind when visiting a wilderness area.