Kahoolawe (HawaiiNewsNow) - Next week marks the 20th anniversary of the end of target bombing on Kahoolawe. Our crew from Hawaii News Now had unusually open access to much of the island with our escorts from the Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission. We saw, firsthand, how life has changed since the military stopped taking aim there.
Much has been done in the last two decades to improve conditions on Kahoolawe, but preserving the land is still no easy task. Restoring the harsh, dry land has meant years of trial-and-error.
"For us on Kahoolawe, it is a big science project," says botanist Paul Higashino, who works for KIRC, as the restoration program manager. Higashino first came to the island in 1978. Since bombing ended in 1990, he's played a major role in replanting efforts.
"Now, with the techniques that we're incorporating or planting, bigger holes, adding compost, fertilizer, and with the irrigation, we're getting 80 to 90 percent success with our planting," reports Higashino.
50 years of target shooting left puncture wounds in the earth. The island lacks fresh water sources, and over a century of overgrazing by ranch cattle, sheep, and wild goats took its toll - resulting in severe soil erosion.
Much of Kahoolawe is covered with dry, dusty, red hardpan dirt. It's only been in the last six or seven years that they've been able to grow viable vegetation. Greenery, like the small aalii plant, was virtually unseen ten years ago. Now, they're sprouting up in concentrated areas - small but important victories for the restoration team.
Along Kahoolawe's coastline, run-off from heavy rains have led to sediment build-up. There are also remnants of some ship-to-shore target areas, but for the most part, they're 'preserving' rather than 'restoring' the island's bluffs, shores, and marine life.
"It's very unique. Because of the lack of human interference, stocks (of marine life) that we have are special. It's a very unique and special place," explains Dean Tokishi, KIRC's ocean program manager.
One of Hawaii's most pristine reef ecosystems lies in an area called Honokoa. Conservationists found ancient fishing shrines in perfect condition nearby, and King David Kalakaua is said to have landed there to cleanse himself in the ocean's pure waters. The hope is: it will stay this way.
You still need approval from KIRC to get onto the land, but there are volunteer opportunities if you're interested in visiting there.