Contrary to what we see in Hollywood or hear as tradition, tossing lei in the ocean is a big NO NO.
The flower creations not only pollute the surrounding waters but harm marine life as well. The lei drifts off to sea, and as the flowers peel off one by one, the string remains in the ocean. It’s this part of the lei that has killed many honu (sea turtle) over the years. They get strangled by it after unknowingly swimming into the particle floating on the ocean’s surface.
The string may also get caught on outer reefs, where it is mistaken as food. It may get jammed in their throats or clogged in their digestive systems. Both of which cause more unintentional deaths.
Many people do not realize how something as beautiful as a lei can be such a threat to the ocean environment. It’s not anyone’s fault but rather a lack of education and misinterpretation of the Hawaiian culture. Hollywood, however, may be one source of such confusion. Old movies show people throwing lei out to sea from the deck of a cruise ship, but let me assure you, this is NOT typical Hawaiian protocol.
The only time it would be acceptable to put lei in the ocean is if you break the string and slide only the flowers off into the water. The string itself should be discarded. You’ll often see people do this during a religious or memorial ceremony at the beach. They paddle out to sea on surfboards or in kayaks and release flowers in memory of a loved one.
As a visitor to the islands, you can help to educate others on this commonly misinterpreted issue. The more people who know, the less harm there’ll be on our ocean life. You could be even more proactive by breaking the string of a lei that may be floating along the shore. Every bit helps. Please malama aina, take care of the land, when in Hawaii and help preserve its beauty and longevity for future generations to come. Mahalo!