Bride playing ukulele during eco-friendly Hawai'i elopement
Hawaii elopement photographer


How to leave no trace

while getting married in

Couple embracing on beach during eco-friendly Hawai'i wedding




What are the leave no trace principles?

If you’re getting married outside, it’s probably because you’re drawn to nature’s beauty. The way we keep nature beautiful so that we can continue to come back to these gorgeous spots time & time again is to make sure that we enjoy them sustainably and responsibly. Weddings, elopements, and photo sessions can have a big cumulative impact on the environment—and without following Leave No Trace, this is what could happen:

  • Locations that are currently available for weddings, & elopements could become off-limits for special events and professional photography—meaning it could become impossible to come back to a location for a vow-renewal or anniversary session in 5 years.
  • The spot that you said your vows could get so badly damaged, destroyed, or trashed that it needs to be closed for restoration, and won’t look the same at all when you want to come back in the future.
  • The prevalence and costs of special event permits could spike, causing it to become very difficult to have any kind of events on public lands.
  • So whether you find the outdoors peaceful, serene, awe-inspiring, or whatever’s drawing you to getting married in nature, we’re all in this together. And together we believe it is possible to have the BEST day, while also protecting our natural world for future visitors.

    By reducing our impact as we visit, photograph, and celebrate outdoors, we can protect these places we love! You don’t have to limit your celebration to reduce your impact–this guide will help you each step of the way as you plan, prepare, and finally get married somewhere beautiful!

    Simply put, Leave No Trace is a set of ethics & best practices we should follow to enjoy and protect the outdoors at the same time. Leave No Trace has a set of 7 minimum-impact principles, that help guide our decisions when we’re outside.


    Plan Ahead and Prepare


    Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces


    Dispose of Waste Properly


    Leave What You Find


    Minimize Campfire Impacts


    Respect Wildlife


    Be Considerate of other Visitors

    © 1999 by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics:

    Hawaii elopement photographer

    Leave no trace considerations for Hawai'i

    Weddings and photoshoots ARE NOT allowed in the following locations (please note this is not a complete list, just the most popular spots we see violations at);

    Crouching Lion (Oahu)

    Kahana Bay and Kahana State Park (Oahu)

    Makua Beach (Oahu)

    Waimea Valley (Kauai)

    Wailua Falls (Kauai)

    Please note that even if your photographer says they can take you to these spots they are breaking the law, their liability insurance is invalid in case of a accident, they can lose their business license. You are also risking making these

    There are so many gorgeous locations in Hawai'i to get married outside' from beaches, to mountaintops, cliffside overlooks and waterfalls to stunning botanical gardens. However, not all locations are legal or accessible. For all weddings or photoshoots in Hawai'i a permit is required if on public land. Unfortunately, many photographers have been taking their clients to off-limits locations for elopements and photoshoots. Locations are illegal for a reason; they may be a historical or cultural site, they may be dangerous (eroding cliffs, contaminated water), or may have been overrun and are putting the ecosystem at risk. By knowingly going to these locations you are damaging the spots for future generations and putting yourself at risk.

    But it’s not just sediments, it’s also trash and toxins from us that are making their way into fragile ecosystems. Your reusable water bottle and shopping bags (oof! always forget these when we travel) will go a long way in helping to reduce the amount of plastic making its way seaward while you visit, but also using reef-safe sunscreens will help minimize the amount of harmful chemicals entering the water. While Hawaii became the first state to ban sunscreens containing oxybenzone, octinoxate, and octocrylene (which have been shown to kill corals and harm associated reef critters), using reef-safe sunscreens anywhere you go (yes, even for that dip in the mountain streams) will greatly help reduce impacts to coastal habitats.

    Finally, for travel to your destination wedding or elopement, islands can be among the most isolated places on Earth. While this is what helps make island biodiversity and scenery truly unique, it means that the thousands of visitors each year are crossing enormous expanses to capture their memories there. The closest continent to Hawaii is ~2,300 miles away, meaning that visitors are likely coming from even further corners of the globe. Double that for your return ticket and multiply it by the number of guests and, well… you see the point. Is there a better alternative to air travel? Not at this point in space and time. But the least one could do is plan to offset the miles covered by you and your wedding party/guests as carbon credits. While carbon offsets do not get rid of the carbon dioxide produced by flying, it does help by investing in projects that reduce greenhouse gases in other areas.

    The impact of

    Waste and pollution from weddings in Hawai'i

    In terms of outdoor weddings and elopements on remote islands, waste and pollution are among the most jarring side-effects of a booming destination wedding industry. It may be tempting to bring along those single-use items as props (confetti, balloons, etc.), but islands have a much more difficult time dealing with waste. As an example, according to the Kokua Hawai'i Foundation Hawaii burns around 37% of all its waste (the most toxic form of waste management). The rest is put in landfills (which have their own devastating impacts on residents). As photographers, we’ve seen it over and over again; clients will arrive with a plastic lei that was purchased at a department store, wanting to commemorate their trip to Hawaii. But think about it this way, that lei (apart from being forged by plastics and crude oil) has likely traveled an even greater distance than you have, only to be discarded once the trip is over. The same could be said for most of the wedding decorations we’ve photographed. According to the Green Bride, the average wedding produces 400 lbs of trash, an island destination wedding should involve considerable planning on how much waste will be produced, and considerations for sustainable or biodegradable alternatives would be most responsible.

    Offset your carbon-footprint is a great place to offset carbon from travel! How much does it cost? Roughly $10-20 for a long flight, which, in the grand scheme of wedding budgets, should be included as a bare minimum!

    Toxins produced by decomposing landfill waste and incineration not only contribute to climate change, but also leach into the groundwater aquifers, eventually making their way through watersheds and to the oceans. In contrast to continents, islands oftentimes have dramatically compressed watersheds, with freshwater making its way from the highest peaks, down streams and valleys, and into the ocean in a matter of just a few miles (the Mississippi, by contrast, travels more than 2,350 miles to the Gulf of Mexico). The shortened amount of time for water to make its way to the ocean means that every impact along the way is vastly amplified. That means that even the small perceived effect of wandering off a trail or hiking beyond marked areas (anything for the ‘gram, right??) can cause substantial erosion and destabilization of scenic locations (especially in places like Hawaii, where steep and washed-out trails are most common). The loose sediment makes its way to the oceans, where it can reduce water quality and smother coral reefs.

    Rent your wedding decor

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    Warning sign of leptospirosis contamination in Hawaii waterfall

    ways to protect Hawai'i's fragile ecosystem

    Islands are inherently fragile, yet diverse ecosystems are driven by ages of evolution and random chance. Many of the native species traveled thousands of miles on floating debris, attached to birds’ legs, or carried by winds and storms; the unique flora and fauna survived impossible odds and established themselves in remote and oftentimes harsh conditions. However, islands are also among the greatest hotspots for species extinctions and introductions of invasive species. Make sure that your entire trip to Hawai'i is more sustainable by not engaging in any of the threats listed below.

    Stop invasive species threats; Not washing gear (your sneakers from the continent can transplant non-native species), not closing gates on trails (gates are there for a reason!), feeding cats (cats have toxoplasmosis and are responsible for killing native Hawaiian Monk Seals and are extremely harmful to the islands native bird populations.)

    Don't harrass wildlife harassment; If you see wildlife (monk seals, sea turtles, dolphins or sharks) DO NOT get closer than 6 feet, take flash photos or selfies, feed the animals, or fly drones overhead.

    Non't support exploitative “ecotourism;” We know that the promise of diving with sharks or dolphins is incredibly exciting. Please do your homework before booking any of these tours, many of them have violated rules about interacting with wildlife.

    Don't stand on or touch coral; (5 million tourists engaged in ocean recreation). Corals are living animals, not rocks – please respect them as such. They are immensely important to all ocean species and just as fragile.




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