Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission

Our mission at Hawaiian Paddle Sports involves more than just our business. Community, culture, and protecting what we love in this world is a big part of who we are. Each month we highlight a local charity, community group or non profit organization to help raise awareness for their cause. In June 2017, we were proud to support Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission.

Kaho’olawe: A Sacred Island

Seven miles off Maui’s southwest shoreline lies Kaho‘olawe, one of Hawaii’s most sacred – and mysterious – islands. The smallest of the Main Hawaiian Islands, Kaho‘olawe was colonized by Native Hawaiians as early as 400 A.D. Its historic name, Kohemalamalama O Kanaloa, is a nod to Kanaloa, the Hawaiian akua (god) of the ocean and long distance voyaging. The historic name is especially appropriate when considering Kaho‘olawe’s role as a navigational center for voyaging.

Kahoolawe Island Hawaiian Paddle Sports

Though only 7 miles from the southwest coast of Maui, Kaho’olawe remains largely inaccessible to the public, except for special restoration, education, or cultural trips.

To date, archeologists have inventoried nearly 3,000 historical sites and items from Kaho‘olawe that are largely related to navigation and cultural ceremonies. These archeological findings, combined with Hawaiian oral records, it is believed that Kaho‘olawe functioned essentially as a classroom to teach the Polynesian art of navigation. Situated in close proximity to Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Molokini, Kaho‘olawe has unobstructed views of both the surrounding islands and the sky. The island also has important landmarks, including Kealaikahiki, its westernmost point. Translated as “the road to Tahiti”, Kealaikahiki served as a launching point for Polynesian voyaging canoes sailing back to Tahiti.

kaho'olawe paddling

Hawaiian Paddle Sports team members paddle to Kaho’olawe as part of Kaho’olawe Island Reserve Commission’s “Kanu Wa’a” restoration program.

Kaho’olawe’s Changing Landscape

Despite Kaho‘olawe’s unquestioned importance to the Native Hawaiian culture and community, it has undergone significant impacts and changes in the past 200 years. Goats were introduced in 1793, and began to denude the landscape of native plants. The island was then used as a penal colony, followed by a series of unsuccessful ranching operations. Unfortunately, the widespread and uncontrolled grazing of sheep, goats, and cattle led to significant erosion, substantial soil loss, and destruction of native vegetation.

Kaho‘olawe underwent significant changes with the introduction of ranching, followed by over 50 years of using the island for target practice by the U.S. Navy. This 280 foot crater was created by a large explosion of 500 tons of TNT as part of “Operation Sailor Hat”.

Various ranching operations continued through the early years of World War II until 1941 and the attack on Pearl Harbor. Kaho‘olawe was then transformed into a bombing range. In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower officially transferred ownership of the island to the U.S. Navy. Vocal outcry and protests from the Native Hawaiian community in the 1970’s eventually led to a cease in bombing in 1990 and the return of Kahoolawe to the State of Hawaii in 1994 – over a half century after the Island’s use for target practice began.

Kaho’olawe Island Reserve Commission: Restoring Land and Culture

Not surprisingly, the extensive grazing and bombing of Kaho‘olawe significantly altered the island’s natural landscape. Though the Navy undertook some restoration work in the 1980’s, and cleared 75% of the island of unexploded ordnance, Kaho‘olawe continued to suffer from extreme erosion and soil loss. To help facilitate the island’s preservation and restoration, the Hawaii State Legislature established the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC) in 1993.

Kahoolawe Hawaiian Paddle Sports

Lopaka White, a Naturalist Resource Specialist with the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission, introduces Hawaiian Paddle Sports guides to the island of Kaho‘olawe.

The mission of KIRC is to restore the kino (physical manifestation) of Kanaloa. The organization focuses on restoring ecosystems on both the land and sea, managing the island in a sustainable manner, and perpetuating Hawaiian culture. KIRC undertakes active, large scale restoration projects, species and ecosystem monitoring, implementation of erosion control systems, and reestablishment of native plant species. They also maintain an 8-acre property located at the Kihei Boat Harbor. The property is the site of ongoing volunteer projects and also hosts the Kaho‘olawe Educational Walking Trail.

Kanu Wa’a : Volunteer Efforts Support Kaho’olawe Restoration

Every year, an estimated 1,000 volunteers donate time and effort to the restoration of Kaho‘olawe. The dedication of volunteers has become especially important in recent years, as KIRC has suffered significant budget cuts. To reduce the cost of volunteer programs, while still supporting volunteer efforts, KIRC recently launched the Kanu Wa‘a program that pairs outrigger canoe paddlers with Kaho‘olawe restoration projects.

Kahoolawe Hawaii

Hawaiian Paddle Sports guides plant ‘aki’aki grass to stabilize sand dunes on Kaho‘olawe.

The Hawaiian word kanu means “to plant” and a wa‘a is a “canoe”. The Kanu Wa‘a program therefore revolves around volunteer groups paddling canoes to Kaho‘olawe to plant native plant species. Hawaiian Paddle Sports was proud to be the second group to participate in this program. We covered the cost of the native plants, and our team paddled 50 mile round trip to and from Kaho‘olawe. This program not only reduces costs for KIRC, but more importantly perpetuates the Hawaiian culture. Participants in Kanu Wa‘a must be willing to work and sacrifice to make the journey to Kaho‘olawe, and in doing so, establish a deeper connection to the island.

Kahoolawe Hawaiian Paddle Sports

The Hawaiian Paddle Sports team paddled from Maui to Kaho‘olawe as part of the Kanu Wa’a program.

Our team spent 2 days on Kaho‘olawe planting native ‘aki’aki grass (Sporobolus virginicus). ‘Aki‘aki grass is highly salt and drought tolerant, perfect for Kaho‘olawe’s coastal, arid climate. It is used to stabilize sand dunes, and is important in combating coastal erosion. KIRC’s coastal restoration program began in 2012. Since then, over 15,000 drought tolerant ‘aki’aki have been planted on Kaho‘olawe’s shores. Native Hawaiians used ‘aki’aki leaves, culms and roots medicinally to treat ailments like thrush. In addition to replanting ‘aki’aki, Hawaiian Paddle Sports employees also donned gear to weed-whack around the Kaho‘olawe base camp and help landscape the area.

Kahoolawe Hawaiian Paddle Sports

Hawaiian Paddle Sports team members helped plant ‘aki’aki.

Help Restore Kaho’olawe

Despite it’s storied, and at times painful, history, Kaho‘olawe is a beautiful island full of spirit. From donations to participating in volunteer events, you can help make a difference for Kaho‘olawe. Take action on behalf of Kaho‘olawe by:

  • Donating online or by mail.
  • Subscribing to Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission’s emailing list, and stay up-to-date on all the latest events and opportunities.
  • Volunteering at the Kihei Boat House’s volunteer days, or on special volunteer events to Kahoolawe.
  • Liking” Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission on Facebook, or following them on Instagram to learn about outreach events and volunteer trips.
  • Learning more about history of Kaho‘olawe and sharing your knowledge. It is important that people understand the island’s history and ways that they can support a sustainable future for Kaho‘olawe.

For more information about Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission, visit their website. You can also contact Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission by emailing [email protected] or giving them a call at (808) 243-5020.