Almost 7 miles off of the southwest coast of Maui, sits the smallest Hawaiian Island, Kaho'olawe. Historically known as Kohemalamalama O Kanaloa, Kahoolawe is separated from Maui only by a narrow channel, Kealaikahiki Channel; and has a drastically different history from the Valley Isle. Being low in elevation contributes to the dry and arid conditions found there. Hawaiians first began to settle the island around 400 A.D. Kahoolawe is well known for its strategic importance as far as learning and studying Navigation from stars. Fishermen and farmers inhabited this sacred island for over a thousand years before the island population began to descend. With the lack of fresh water, prevalent wars, and disease, Kahoolawe became less desirable to live on.
See Kaho'olawe Map
In 1832, King Kamehameha III discontinued the death penalty in favor of exile to Kahoolawe Island. The penal colony was disbanded in 1853, after which the Hawaiian Government began to lease the land to ranchers. With overgrazing of livestock, the island lost much of its natural vegetation, and with persistent winds, much of the topsoil was blown away leaving Kaho'olawe Island as an environmental wasteland.
In 1920, the US military began using the coastline for target practice. In 1939, the southern part of Kahoolawe was leased to the military as an artillery range. Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941 beginning a period of martial law by the United States Government. For the next 53 years, Protect Kahoolwe Ohana (PKO) underwent numerous legal battles and protests to allow for their return to the island. All the while the military continued to train and bomb the island as the PKO made small victories. In 1994, Kahoolawe was finally given back to Hawaii along with a $400 million fund in 1993 to clean up the island. This same year, Kahoolawe and its surrounding waters were made into the Kahoolawe Island Reserve and the Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC) was formed to manage it.
Today the island is undergoing constant removal of unexploded military explosives, as well as restoration of native vegetation. It is thought that much of the surface has been cleared, but only to a particular depth. It is unknown exactly how deeply the island has been affected by over half a century of military destruction. Much of the island is still said to be unsafe for human access.
The best way to see the island and surrounding areas is by booking a helicopter tour with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters.
The future of Kaho'olawe Island is brimming with hope. The goal of the PKO and the KIRC is full restoration of the island and the institution of regular education about Hawaiian culture for Hawaiians.
If you're interested in contributing to the rehabilitation of the Kaho'olawe Island Reserve, please make a tax-deductible donation to the Kaho'olawe Rehabilitation Trust Fund or volunteer on Kaho'olawe.
The Kahoolawe Island photo were taken by Natalie Brown.
Kaho'olawe Island Map
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