Ordnance-pocked island still awaits final cleanup
What's the future of Kaho'olawe? The small, 44-square-mile island southwest of Maui was used as a bombing range for the U.S. military for 50 years after the outbreak of World War II. But in 1976, the Protect Kaho'olawe 'Ohana filed suit in federal court to stop the bombing and to preserve the island's archaeological and cultural resources. (The PKO is best known for the tragic loss at sea of activists George Helm and Kimo Mitchell on March 6, 1977, in rough waters off of Kaho'olawe on a single surfboard the two were sharing.)
In 1980, the PKO and the Navy entered into a consent decree that permitted continued military training, but which also allowed the PKO to begin cleaning and revitalizing the island; in 1990, President George H.W. Bush ordered an end to live-fire training on the island; and in 1994, the Navy finally transferred title of Kaho'olawe back to the state of Hawaii. In anticipation of the hand-off, the state established the Kaho'olawe Island Reserve Commission in 1993 to manage the island and its resources.
Sol P. Kaho'ohalahala, KIRC executive director and a member of PKO since 1979, explained in a public talk on Aug. 8 at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, what the future held for Kaho'olawe.
"There used to be all sorts of native birds and vegetation on the island originally, such as the pueo (owl), alala (crow), hau, palupalu o Kanaloa, and pili grass (shrubs and grasses)," said Kaho'ohalahala. "We'd like to bring them back, but it's taking a long time.
"Also, we have a rain catchment system utilizing auwai (irrigation ditches) for the plants, and we have a water desalination system," said Kaho'ohalahala of the island that was known for its lack of fresh water.
"The native Hawaiians were very good engineers -- most people don't know that. They built complex ahupuaa fishponds with sluice gates, and hale that could withstand hurricanes and tsunamis."
Only subsistence fishing is allowed near the island, but they hope in the future to begin planting crops for consumption.
Helicopters are currently used for transportation, but a dedicated sea vessel is being considered, as well as renewable energy sources such as the sun, wind and ocean.
"We currently have communications capability by microwave between Maui, Lana'i, and Kaho'olawe," noted Kaho'ohalahala. "As our energy resources improve, there will be more options for communications alternatives as well."
The Navy continued to clear military ordnance until 2003, but Kaho'ohalahala said only 74 percent of the surface ordnance is gone, and a mere 9 percent of the subsurface ordnance down to 4 feet is cleared.
The KIRC works only in areas that are said to be cleared, and restricts access to areas that are not.
But the federal trust fund set up to clean up the island has insufficient funds left to complete the job. Unfortunately, Kaho'ohalahala doesn't think it's the right political climate now to push for additional congressional funds, but "we must be vigilant."
Despite the progress being made on Kaho'olawe, it's disappointing to hear that the U.S. military will be leaving one more island in the Pacific in disrepair because of its actions. Nuclear tests in the 1950s and '60s on Bikini Atoll, Christmas Island, Johnston Atoll and Enewetak Atoll come to mind. Military experiments in Hawaii continue to this day.
It's outrageous that the Navy didn't fulfill its responsibility and complete the cleanup of Kaho'olawe.
No wonder native Hawaiians are so angry.
And so should we be.
For more information on Kaho'olawe, contact the KIRC at (808) 243-5020, or the PKO at its Web site (kahoolawe.org).
Jackie M. Young is a freelance journalist who recently graduated from the University of Hawaii-Manoa. She has an interest in Native Hawaiian issues, having taken Hawaiian language and Hawaiian studies courses.