For the past 21 years, the state has been drawing from a $44 million trust fund from the federal government to clean up, manage, and restore Kaho`olawe to some semblance of the island it was before half a century of military bombing devastated the topography. While the staff admits the island will never be risk-free or completely clean, it's trying to heal the island - and the people of Hawaii in the process.
Mike Naho`opi`i, executive director of the Kaho`olawe Island Reserve Commission, explains that the island will be one day transferred to a sovereign native Hawaiian government, so what KIRC and its volunteers are doing currently is establishing the foundation for what they believe Hawaiians want, when that entity takes over one day.
It's set aside for native Hawaiian cultural practices, education, and public use. Naho`opi`i says it's a cause the entire state should care about because "when you come to Kaho`olawe, the culture is very clear: There are no distractions, it's you and the island and the people. This is one of the few places not surrounded by Western civilization."
Kaho`olawe staff are trying to turn this island into the state's first fossil-fuel free island - and in the process hoping to model environmentalism to visitors to the island. The state legislature appropriated $2.5 million for the Kaho`olawe Island Reserve Commission, or KIRC, to use towards energy infrastructure, which KIRC is now working to get released.
The boat brings in all the fuel
Mike Naho`opi`i, KIRC executive director, provides examples: He says right now, boats bring in diesel fuel, which is KIRC's single biggest cost. The diesel is used for electricity, which is used for everything, including making fresh water from sea water. He estimates it costs $60,000 - $80,000 a year in fuel costs alone.
Naho`opi`i says KIRC is currently developing plans for more photo voltaic and wind power, including eventually replacing the current gas vehicles with electric trucks.
When I went over to Kaho`olawe with the Pacific Century Fellows to perform volunteer work, one of the tasks we did was collect grass seeds, build erosion-control dams, and plant grass seeds on the upslope of the dam.
KIRC intern Eddie Wine sitting in a truck bed full of rocks we're collecting
It was a much harder task than it sounds. Each day began shortly after dawn. After a hearty breakfast prepared for us, we jumped into several trucks and began a long, dusty trek towards the final destination. We stopped at a storage area to get supplies first (buckets, bags, shovels, etc.), then made our first stop at a gravel pit to shovel gravel into burlap bags.
Ryan Kawamoto shooting video of James Bruch instructing volunteers how much gravel to add to the bags
After that, we stopped at another area to add kiawe mulch chips to the bags and tie them up. Then, we foraged for large rocks near the roadside, and lastly, we collected pili grass seeds. By this point it was near noon and the sun was high, and it was another hot day on Kaho`olawe. The staff suggested we have lunch before we got to what they called the hardest part of the day.
Pili grass seeds
Ryan Kadota and I teamed up to collect grass seeds
Working hard, or hardly working?
After a really wonderful lunch and a lot of hydration, we drove to yet another area to haul a quarter ton of rocks up a hill... at high noon. At this point, my cameraman and I had to conveniently bail out to shoot video for the story. *shrug* What could we do? We're working!
Ryan Kawamoto and me
And 3, 2, 1...
Ryan Kawamoto worked his behind off. His company, Kinetic Productions, shoots movies, documentaries, and commercials, but he shot my 8 part TV series as a favor to me. Love him!!!
The staff showed us how to construct rock dams inside the deep gullies with some plastic mesh and zip ties, which we then fortified with the burlap bags now stuffed with gravel and mulch. Lastly, we scattered seeds on the upslope. The idea is that the dams will catch the dirt when it rains so that it doesn't wash off island. Eventually, the seeds will grow and assist in this effort.
The area we worked in was only surface-cleared of bombs, so we couldn't dig. The staff had to get creative with ways to catch and develop a soil base. Many of the solutions the staff come up with are incredibly inventive; different contraptions have used dinner plates and old phone books.
We concluded by around 3 p.m., tired, thirsty, and dusty. We didn't finish the task either - it took us another half day to finish the dam building in two different locations.
Still, it's rewarding work. Mike Naho`opi`i, executive director of the Kaho`olawe Island Reserve Commission, details further in this video what we did: