Kaho‘olawe is the smallest of the 8 main islands in Hawai‘i and is named in honor of Kanaloa, Hawaiian deity of the ocean. The island is also historically referred to as Kohemalamalama O Kanaloa. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Army declared martial law throughout Hawai‘i and took control of Kaho‘olawe. The island was used as a bombing range, and in 1953 title to the island was given to the U.S. Navy. The use of bunker busters during this time cracked the water table of the island, and the freshwater aquifer of the island spilled into the ocean.
In the mid-seventies, members of Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana (PKO) began a series of occupations of the island in an effort to halt the bombing. The PKO also filed suit in Federal District Court to enjoin the Navy’s bombing activities. In 1977, the Federal District Court ordered a partial summary judgment requiring the Navy to conduct an environmental impact statement and supply an inventory of, and protect, the historic sites on the island.
As a result of PKO actions and litigation, President George Bush Sr. ordered a stop to the bombing of Kaho‘olawe in 1990. The Navy officially halted bombing practices in 1993, and contracted the removal of unexploded ordnance—a $400 million promise of clean-up. Yet, by November 2003, 74% of the island’s surface was cleared. Only nine percent of the island’s surface has been cleared to a depth of four feet. Ten percent of the island, or 2,936 acres, has not been cleared and is unsafe to access.
Transfer of access control was returned to the State of Hawai‘i in a ceremony at ‘Iolani Palace on November 11, 2003.
Photograph by Jan Becket. Editor of a book of photographs depicting 60 heiau on the island of Oahu.