Monday, October 28, 2002

The blowing of the pu was a part of the observance marking the planting season on Kahoolawe island on Friday. Several men practiced blowing the bamboo instrument before the formal ceremony.

Replanting roots
of the past

A preservation group works to restore
native species on the island of Kahoolawe

By Gary T. Kubota

LUA-MAKIKA, Kahoolawe >> Joshua Kaakua planted a stalk of native sugarcane in bare earth on the former military target island of Kahoolawe and looked at the patches of green starting to spread from the reforestation effort across the island's crater at Lua-makika.


"I think it's awesome," said Kaakua, a Waimanalo resident. "It's a big challenge."

As the Navy's $400 million authorization for clearing ordnance from Kahoolawe draws to a close in November 2003, state officials are starting to focus on planting native species to control severe erosion in safe areas on the 28,600-acre island.

Officials with the state Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission say they have encountered success recently at Lua-makika near the 1,500-foot level but have a long way to go in their reforestation plan.

The commission hopes that reforestation eventually will bring back the frequent light showers known as "naulu rains" that occurred in the afternoon when columns of clouds extended from southwest Maui to Kahoolawe.

In ceremonies Friday attended by about 80 people, Hawaiians chanted, danced the hula and made offerings at a stone platform at Lua-makika, asking for a good planting season. Around the platform were signs of erosion: no top soil, only a polished red earthen crust.

Bales of native pili grass have been placed along the crater at Lua-makika on Kahoolawe to slow wind and rain erosion. Those involved in the reforestation of the island also hope to spread the pili grass seeds.

The wind swept over the hard ground, blowing hats off people's heads and grit into their eyes.

Officials estimate Kahoolawe has about 12,000 acres of these hard-ground areas with virtually no vegetation.

State officials and volunteers have found success in fighting the erosion inside Lua-makika crater, where about 20,000 native species have been planted over 30 acres.

Officials said the survival rate in the last year has been about 75 to 80 percent, compared to 20 percent in other places in previous years.

"We've had a wonderful season this year," said restoration coordinator Penny Levin.

Levin said the success partly stems from the more-than-usual rain on the island in the last year. She said officials are also combining sciences with native traditions, learning to plant when it rains and planting upwind along the east side of the crater so that native seeds will blow downwind to the west.

Officials are also planting native species that do well in dry land climates.

The commission, which receives some of the $400 million for restoration, has been spending $3 million in developing a tank catchment system to channel and store rain water.

As a way to reduce rain and wind erosion, bags filled with kiawe chips and bales of pili grass line sections of road and the trail to the Lua-makika.

Officials hope the seeds from the pili grass will also spread to other nearby areas.

Eddie Kaanana and Penny Levin planted a native Hawaiian variety of sugarcane last week to mark the start of planting season on Kahoolawe. Native Hawaiians and supporters have had sucess lately in reforestation efforts.

Commission Executive Director Keoni Fairbanks estimates the commission will have $20 million to $25 million left for future operation and development.

The Navy halted the practice bombing of Kahoolawe in 1990 after nearly 50 years. Under a 1994 congressional appropriations act, Kahoolawe was conveyed to the state, and the commission was put in charge of restoring the island after the Navy clears the ordnance.

With more than 1,000 acres of cliffs and gullies, the cleanup has been difficult, and an estimated 35 percent of the island is expected to remain uncleared of ordnance.

Under a state law, the island has been designated as a cultural reserve, and the management is expected to pass to a native Hawaiian sovereign entity once one is established and recognized by the state and federal government.

A number of the 80 visitors, young native Hawaiians from the University of Hawaii and Kamehameha Schools, say they're optimistic about the restoration effort.

Kaakua, who recently graduated from the UH's College of Engineering, said he is interested in going into civil and environmental engineering and perhaps looking at ways to solve erosion problems on the island.

"It's something I want to do," he said.

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