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Honolulu Lite

Charles Memminger

Thursday, July 29, 2004


Sea biologists aim
to restore aloha at islet


In what has to be a "Honolulu Lite" first, I began getting reaction to my Tuesday column before I had finished writing it.

The column was about how Coconut Island in Kaneohe Bay, now controlled by the University of Hawaii's Institute of Marine Biology, was a lot more user-friendly to citizens when half of the island belonged to the Japanese mafia.

I wasn't being facetious, mainly because that word is so hard to spell I stay away from it all together. I was just stating a basic truth. Years ago when the island was half-owned by a yakuza figure, kayakers were able to paddle around the island, even through the lagoon on the north side, without being hassled. Since the entire island was taken over by the University of Hawaii and is now ironically "public property," kayakers have routinely been accosted by surly security guards. A friend and I experienced such anti-aloha when we paddled around the island recently.

The point was that the guards and other personnel there need to be reminded that the island isn't private, and they should be a little nicer to the people who pay their checks (i.e., the taxpayers).

BEFORE I HAD even finished the column, I got a call from Jo-Ann Leong, director of the institute that controls Coconut Island. I had told a friend who worked on the island about my unpleasant experience and my plan to write about it, and he apparently alerted Leong.

Leong graciously apologized and said the guards would be reminded once again that they shouldn't take such a heavy-handed approach to passive visitors like kayakers. She said security guards have tended to be less collegial than they should, partly because there have been thefts on the island. But she agreed that was no reason for the guards to treat everyone getting near the island as impending felons.

"We're trying hard to change that, we really are," she said.

She's also trying to change the island's image as inaccessible to the public by way of a "docent program" that welcomes tour groups, students and other community groups. (If you want to schedule such a group trip, call 236-7401).

Jim Lakey, the island's facilities manager for the past year, also told me efforts are being made to train guards and boat operators to be more polite to the public.

"Jo-Ann and I are committed to bring the island into the 20th century," he said. "Yes, we're in the 21st century, but miracles happen in small steps."

It was pretty amazing that both Lakey and Leong were so open about discussing the problems of the perception of the island as being unfriendly to outsiders and their efforts to change it. The usual reactions to a piece of "investigative humorism" in this space are angry calls to the editor, threats of lawsuits and, worst of all, indifference. To all the e-mailers who told me their Coconut Island horror stories, I say this: Before returning part the island to the yakuza, let's see what Leong and Lakey can do.




See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Charles Memminger, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists' 2004 First Place Award winner for humor writing, appears Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. E-mail cmemminger@starbulletin.com



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