Maui News

Maui Businesses Win Big at Hawai‘i Ecotourism Awards

November 14, 2018, 9:44 AM HST
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Lila Jones, head mermaid instructor at Hawaii Mermaid Adventures, and Timothy Lara, owner and founder of Hawaiian Paddle Sports and Hawaii Mermaid Adventures, were recognized by the Hawaii Ecotourism Association yesterday.

Two Maui ocean activity businesses were recognized at the Hawaiʻi Ecotourism Association’s annual awards luncheon, held on Tuesday in Waikīkī.

Hawaiian Paddle Sports was named Hawaiʻi’s Sustainable Operator of the Year, and Lila Jones, head mermaid instructor at Hawaiʻi Mermaid Adventures, was named Maui’s Ecotour Guide of the Year.

“The mission of Hawaiian Paddle Sports and Hawaiʻi Mermaid Adventures is rooted in kuleana, or responsibility, to care for the land and ocean,” said Timothy Lara, owner and founder of Hawaiian Paddle Sports and Hawaiʻi Mermaid Adventures. “We’re extremely proud to be recognized for our efforts in sustainable tourism. We want to lead by example and show that tour operators can do what’s right for the environment and community, and still thrive as a business.”

Paddle for Hunger 2016. PC: Hawaiian Paddle Sports.

Sustainable Operator of the Year: Hawaiian Paddle Sports 

With the ocean as its office, Hawaiian Paddle Sports takes pride in caring for Maui’s environment, community and island culture. The company provides authentic, sustainable eco-tours that encourage guests to discover a deeper appreciation of and connection to Hawaiʻi’s marine environment.


Each outrigger canoe tour, kayak tour, canoe surfing, stand up paddle, or surf lesson starts out with a mini-beach cleanup and talk story about Hawaiʻi’s fragile marine life.


Since its inception in 2010, HPS has encouraged thousands of visitors to protect Maui’s beaches and oceans by disposing of trash properly, reducing single-use plastic consumption, and using reef-safe sunscreen. HPS has a strict no-touch policy for marine life and only uses reusable stainless steel water bottles on its tours. HPS always makes a point to leave beaches cleaner than they found them.

Since 2010, HPS has organized a monthly “Mālama Maui” give back program each year, where donate to a local nonprofit organization and employees volunteer for service projects – ranging from restoring native habitats to taking underprivileged youth out in the ocean. HPS regularly organizes beach cleanups, such as the Lāʻie Wetlands Cleanup and International Coastal Cleanup, attended by both locals and visitors to Maui.

HPS is a Certified B Corporation, using business to drive environmental and social change. It was the first business on Maui to receive this designation. All of its ocean guides are CPR, lifeguard and marine naturalist certified, and undergo Hawaiian cultural training.


HPS is a member of 1% for the Planet, contributing one percent of annual sales directly to nonprofit environmental organizations in the network. Previous donations have included Surfrider Foundation, Hawaiian Islands Land Trust, and West Maui Watershed Partnership.

File photo credit: Hawaiʻi Mermaid Adventures

Maui Ecotour Guide of the Year: Lila Jones, Head Mermaid Instructor, Hawaiʻi Mermaid Adventures  

The criterion to be considered for HEA’s Ecotour Guide of the Year is extensive. Guides must be highly skilled, provide exceptional customer service, implement authentic cultural experiences, and promote conservation.

“We’re thrilled for Lila to be recognized for her efforts as a mermaid instructor,” said Lara. “She has a special way of connecting with guests and always goes above and beyond her job duties to volunteer for the community.”

Jones is a marine biologist and the creator of NAUI Mermaid Level 1 certification. She is Lifeguard, CPR, First Aid, AED, and Skin Diving certified, and a Rescue Scuba Diver.

She undergoes Hawaiian cultural training with Hawaiʻi Mermaid Adventures, and shares Hawaiian stories, myths and legends during her tours.

Jones believes in using her voice as a mermaid to support ocean friendly practices and promote positive changes for our oceans. That is why she starts each mermaid tour with a mini-beach cleanup and conservation talk.

She shares how individuals can volunteer and participate in beach cleanups, donate to environmental causes, encourage others to become ocean stewards, make environmentally friendly choices as a consumer—from using reef-safe sunscreen to reducing single-use plastics to supporting sustainable seafood—and vote on environmental issues.

Many girls only dream of becoming mermaids, but with Jones’ tutelage and professional instruction, they not only become real-life mermaids, they swim safely in the ocean with a mermaid tail and go home as ocean stewards.

As a mermaid instructor, she has assisted guests with everything from marriage proposals to helping cancer patients smile to helping families manage grief by spending time in the ocean.

Jones is a graduate of Hawaiʻi Pacific University and currently resides in Kīhei, Maui.

The Hawaii Ecotourism Association is a member-based non-profit organization whose mission is to protect Hawaiīi’s unique, natural environment and host culture through the promotion of responsible travel and educational programs, relating to sustainable tourism for residents, businesses and visitors.

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