I watched a very large full moon rise through the clouds over Haleakala last night as I listened to Hawaiian songs and ancient tales about Kaho`olawe, the island floating a few miles behind us on the western horizon. The occasion was the Kaho`olawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC) Mahina`ai Night, an event that’s been going on each full moon of 2015. Three more of these are scheduled for the last three full moons of the year, and I am looking forward to them.
The purpose of these events is to introduce more people to the KIRC and gain supporters for its work–restoring the body of this island that was devastated for decades, first by imported sheep and goats and then by bombs dropped on training missions during and after World War II. Many years of grassroots effort by the Protect Kaho`olawe `Ohana finally persuaded the U.S. government to return Kaho`olawe to Hawai`i, and federal funding paid for years of work on the former target island. Unexploded ordinance scattered around the island, sometimes buried deep within the earth, has been removed (although plenty remains), planting and erosion-control efforts undertaken, and cultural resources preserved and protected. For years, volunteer access trips helped with this ongoing work. But federal funds have run out, and a $1 million appropriation that was the first-ever general funding from the state will not last long.
So, with funding help from Maui County, KIRC started these full-moon events to draw new people into the mission of restoration. The more they can show the legislature they have community support, the more likely the project will receive more state funding. And any contribution made by new supporters can only help.
At last night’s event, cultural resources project coordinator Kui Gapero showed us how planting is done on this island where digging a hole could set off an unexpected bomb. In a demonstration area near a new walking trail through the commission’s 8-acre Kihei property, we saw circles of stone which planters would fill with soil and potting mix, thus creating a little raised bed that could be mulched with piles of native pili grass. This technique is working well, gradually restoring vegetation to the island. And controlling runoff is improving the quality of nearshore water, creating a favorable environment for sea life within the reserve, which in turn will spill over to enrich the degraded ocean environment found around the rest of Hawai`i these days, restoration specialist Lyman Abbott and ocean resources specialist Dean Tokishi said.
I’ve been to Kaho`olawe only once, never on one of the access trips that allow time for exploration and work on restoration. My one trip, however, was unique–it was on the original Hawaiian sailing canoe Hokule`a, the first time it sailed to Kaho`olawe. That brief visit was one of the peak experiences of my reporting years. I also spent many an hour covering the meetings of the Kaho`olawe Island Conveyance Commission when restoration was only a twinkle in Chairman Hannibal Tavares’s eye. Alas, I was off island in 1994, when the Navy signed an agreement turning over the island after a successful lawsuit by the Protect Kaho`olawe `Ohana. That must’ve been an amazing day.
But some of my earliest understanding of Kaho`olawe comes from Inez MacPhee Ashdown, whose father, Angus MacPhee, held a lease on Kaho`olawe in the early 1900s. Inez told of the horrendous effort to get rid of the goats and sheep that ravaged every bit of green they could find, leaving the island to bleed red dirt into the sea. When World War II came, MacPhee and his partner Harry Baldwin turned the island over to the military. They were supposed to give it back. They did not. Inez spent the rest of her life mourning that loss and trying to find a way to get back to the island she had loved. She would be happy to know that hundreds of people have worked for years to heal Kaho`olawe and that they have no plans to stop.
The next Mahina`ai Night is tentatively scheduled for October 27. Watch the paper and the Facebook page (facebook.com/kircmaui) for that and for ongoing work days at the Kihei property.