If Kaho'olawe can be healed, says Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission Executive Director Mike Nahoopii, then "we can heal anywhere else in Hawaii."
And the good news is organizations charged with restoring the island are making headway.
That's remarkable given the island's history – a sacred place that was bombed for decades by the military and ecologically devastated.
At the helm of the healing process is the commission, which is making plans to combat erosion on the island, plant a dryland forest, and oversee invasive species eradication.
Although it will take generations to restore Kaho'olawe, progress is already noticeable.
Dean Tokishi, reserve ocean resource specialist, said meticulous planting projects have helped to address erosion on the island and decreased runoff.
Two decades ago, he said, runoff created a perpetual red ring around the island. "But now I've noticed, you know, visually that ring is dissipating and it's not as frequent," Tokishi said.
In the upper portion of the island, the KIRC plans on putting in a dryland forest. It's an area that only certain plant species can grow in because of how little rain falls there.
"We're not creating these forests and environments for the sake of creating these dryland forests," Nahopii said. "We are creating the homelands or the place for Native Hawaiian culture originated from so that it can be re-flourished again."
Plans to have a large seabird colony on the island are also in motion. But first, Nahopii said, rats and feral cats must be eradicated on the island.
More from our series: Reclaiming Kaho'olawe
- The restoration of Kaho'olawe is a marathon, not a sprint. And we're on mile 1
- Operation Sailor's Hat: The tests on Kaho'olawe meant to simulate an atomic bomb
- The bombing of Kaho'olawe went on for decades. The clean-up will last generations
- Imagining a future for Kaho'olawe by reclaiming its past: 'Feel the mana'
- Meet the tiny island with a big presence in the history of Hawaii
- PHOTOS: Kaho'olawe: The Sacred Island
For the past four years, multiple agencies have taken part in the seabird restoration project. They're still looking into the safest ways to remove the invasive species from the island without harming native ones.
Once the final plans are set, the removal process is expected to take about 10 years.
Another major effort underway: Kaho'olawe is on track to become the first completely self-sustaining island in the state.
Kelly McHugh, of the Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission, said base camp on the island will run on solar power and a reverse osmosis station will be installed to turn salt water into drinking water.
KIRC says plans for the first educational center on the island are also being discussed.
"Our commission has just started, at the state's request, to discuss the idea of having a college or educational program where we might charge tuition for students that want to come and perpetuate lessons learned here," McHugh said.
KIRC officials say much of Kaho'olawe's path to restoration depends on appropriations decisions made at the state Capitol. Funding to clean up the remaining 25 percent of the island that the Navy didn't clear during their years-long, $400 million clean-up is still in limbo.
"The Navy is not going to do anything unless they're told to do it. Which means usually it's Congress has to direct the Navy and they have to fund it," Nahopii said.
"The stars were all in alignment in 1994 for Kaho'olawe to come back and get cleaned. We have to wait for those starts to get aligned again before we can come back and do more cleaning on Kaho'olawe."
Meanwhile, there's no shortage of interest among residents to help with restoration efforts.
KIRC has a big to-do list — and a waiting list full of volunteers that stretches out two years.
"We don't do looky loos, we don't do tourism, we don't do volunteerism, ecotourism," McHugh said. "We want to ensure that you're coming ready to work with your heart and mind in the very best place it can be."
The exact plans for Kaho'olawe continue to evolve, but one thing is for sure: Major developments are out of the question.
"The entire island of Kaho'olawe is listed on the National Register of Historic Places," McHugh said. "We just want to make sure that these places are intact for future generations to learn from."