Stowaway soil might have led to confiscation of island rocks
Is it illegal to mail from Hawaii to the mainland a small vial of rocks or sand taken from Hawaii? My cousin collects rocks from every state he travels to. When he was here a few years ago, he tried to take a small container of rocks with him, but it was confiscated at Honolulu Airport. Is it OK to collect a sample of rocks and mail it to him?
Answer: The U.S. Postal Service has no restrictions against mailing rocks or sand from Hawaii, according to Lynne Moore, manager of customer service for the Postal Service in Hawaii. That's assuming there's nothing out of the ordinary involved.
Postal restrictions are geared more toward toxic or hazardous materials or something (for example, liquids not properly packed) that can harm the mail itself, employees or the public, Moore said.
However, you should make sure that anything you send is free of soil.
Your cousin might have had rocks confiscated at Honolulu Airport because they were not found to be "clean."
Among the permitted items you may carry aboard a plane to the mainland or Guam, once they pass inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are beach sand, rocks or stones, coconuts, cooked foods, dried seeds, dried decorative arrangements, fresh flowers (except gardenia, jade vine and maunaloa), hinahina or Spanish moss, "Irish" or white potatoes, pineapples, seashells (except land snail shells) and wood (including driftwood and sticks).
You can find the list, as well as a list of prohibited items, online: www.aphis.usda.gov/lpa/pubs/fsheet_faq_notice/notice_hawaii.html.
USDA inspectors would be concerned if the sand or rocks contained soil, because the soil could harbor insects or pathogens that might be detrimental to plant life, an inspector at Honolulu Airport told us.
However, if inspectors suspect that the rocks may have been taken from a heiau (Hawaiian temple) or are volcanic rocks, they will try to discourage the airline passenger from taking them back home, he said.
"By the letter of the law, it is allowed," the inspector said. "But you know how many times the rocks are sent back."
He's referring to the legend that people who take volcanic rocks from Hawaii will be plagued by bad luck.
The legend is even noted on Snopes.com, which tracks urban myths. It doesn't actually tackle the claim of the curse, only that "tourists who have taken rocks from Hawaiian beaches have returned them in hopes of ending streaks of bad luck." That claim is said to be "true."
The curse is said to be imposed by Madame Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess, although some people believe the story was thought up years ago by rangers at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to prevent people from taking rocks.
Whatever you believe, you might think twice about mailing sand or rocks you've gathered to your cousin.
Got a question or complaint?
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