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.
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