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"The  Sacred Island"

Big Island








Kah’oolawe is visible from the south shore of Maui. It is a relatively small island measuring in at just 11 miles long and six miles wide. The land is dry and arid; receiving no more than 25 inches of rain annually.

The tale of Kaho’olawe is as intriguing as it is appalling. In the 1830’s King Kamehameha I established a penal colony where men were banished for crimes including promoting the Catholic faith, rebellion, theft, divorce, breaking marriage vows, murder and prostitution.

In the late 1840’s King Kamehameha II introduced the “Great Mahele;” the western legal concept of land ownership. Kamehameha II divided the Hawaiian lands among the royalty, and elite. A small portion was reserved for the government. Kaho’olawe was considered government land.

The island was then leased to several ranches. This led to an uncontrollable sheep and goat population; resulting in accelerated erosion and devegitization. The ranches and government spent the next 70 years attempting to eradicate the animals, and revegitate the island. These efforts promptly concluded on December 8, 1941, the day after the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor. On this day, the United States government placed Hawaii under martial law.

It was then decided by the United States Government that Kaho’olawe would be used for target practice, and other military exercises. Ship to shore bombardment of the island commenced immediately. For this reason Kaho’olawe is often referred to as “the target island.”

During the next 50 years the land of Kaho’olawe suffered a seemingly endless barrage of munitions testing. By the mid 70’s a coalition to save Kaho’olawe was formed, and members of the Protect Kaho’olawe Ohana filed suit requesting that the United States Navy be required to issue an environmental impact report, as well as survey the island to protect all historical sites. In 1981, Kaho’olawe was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This still wasn’t enough for a cease fire. The military was allowed to continue their practices, however this time limited to just a portion of the island. It wasn’t until 1990 that President George Bush issued a memorandum directing the military to cease using Kaho’olawe as a weapons range. Kaho’olawe and its surrounding waters were returned to the state, and the Hawaiian people.

Unfortunately the aina (land) was soiled with contaminants and riddled with unexploded ordnance. The island was deemed unsafe and uninhabitable. In 1998 the United States Navy began a federally funded 10 year cleanup program which fell far short of its goal of restoring the land. At this time portions of the island are now safe but many others remain unsafe.

Today, Kaho’olawe preservationists are working very hard to remove the remaining unexploded ordnance, resoil & revegiate the land, and rejuvenate its cultural and spiritual value. The island is strictly off limits to visitors, including the near shore waters surrounding the island.




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