By Nina Wu
Q&A with Anissa Gunther, manager, Kailua Sailboards & Kayaks
Founded in 1982, Kailua Sailboards & Kayaks offers kayak, stand-up paddle and snorkel gear rentals while also offering adventure tours out to the Mokuluas.
But the watersports company also believes in stewardship of the natural environment and education. Last year, the company transformed the Malama Lounge, where visitors go to watch a safety video, into the Kailua Bay Education Center, offering interactive displays about plastic pollution's impact on the ocean, as well as information on Hawaii's endangered birds and Hawaiian monk seals.
They learn that eight out of the top 10 items found during last year's International Coastal Cleanup Day were plastics related to eating and drinking. While stand-up paddling and kayaking with pet pooches has become an increasingly common sight in Kailua, dogs are not allowed at Flat Island or the Mokuluas, all protected wildlife bird sanctuaries.
Two years ago, the business voluntarily stopped offering customers plastic checkout bags at its surf shop, offering paper or reusable bags instead. Kailua Sailboards & Kayaks is also certified by the Hawaii Ecotourism Association.
Gunther, 39, a kayaker, volleyball player and mother, also organizes habitat restoration trips to the Mokuluas in partnership with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. A small group of volunteers helps restore the islets by removing invasive species from January through March. Kailua Sailboards provides kayaks and equipment to get out there, plus lunch, and helps coordinate the volunteers. The partnership is in its fourth year. If interested, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: How did you become interested in conservation?
A: I grew up on the East Coast of the U.S. mainland and became passionate about the ocean due to many summers spent at North Carolina beaches. When I was 15 years old, I talked my parents into taking me to the 1990 Earth Day celebration (I believe it was the 20 year anniversary) held on the steps of the Capitol in Washington D.C. The message to protect our planet really struck me and led me to earn a Bachelor of Science in Biology with a minor in Marine Sciences from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. I was unsure of what field to pursue, so I took off on a world trip to think about it. I discovered a new passion in travel and adventure eco tourism, which eventually landed me in Hawaii to manage this amazing water sports shop.
Q: Of all that you do in educating others about Hawaii's natural habitat, what has been the most rewarding?
A: It's too hard to choose which effort is most rewarding. Witnessing a healthy seabird habitat that was once riddled with invasive plants is a great reward. Hauling hundreds of pounds of plastic off of the beach is rewarding and so is winning the Ultimate Sand Sifter Challenge. Knowing that the KSK team puts its heart and soul into protecting Hawaii's natural resources is truly gratifying.
Q: What are the most unusual items your renters have carried back from a trek out to the ocean? (Renters are encouraged to pick up trash during their adventures. These are all put on display for educational purposes).
A: Renters and tour customers bring back all types of marine debris — shoes, tires, wrappers, bottles and fishing industry debris. Some of the most unusual items are free weights, bullet shells, part of a laundry basket and a power boat seat.
Q: Next you plan to add a coral reef and Hawaiian honu exhibit. What else is on your wish list?
A: Volunteers. Experts who can contribute advice, time and effort towards helping us to create effective and impactful exhibits.