Kahoolawe slowly healing from scars of war

Bart Maybee
Bart Maybee
Paul Higashino
Paul Higashino

By Paul Drewes - bio | email

KAHOOLAWE, Maui (KHNL) - For many, Kahoolawe's history may be a mystery. It was once an island prison and ranchers failed a number of times to tame its hard landscape.

But Kahoolawe is most closely connected to the bombing and shelling that took place there for decades. And it is that part of its history that will also shape the island's future.

Along with the natural unspoiled beauty of this island there are hazards.

"Just about every time we go out in the field we find more stuff."

In some spots very visible reminders of this island's history as a bombing range.

"We find them everyday, everyday."

Bombs and ordinance greet visitors to this island, with a stern warning not to pick up anything you didn't drop.

Because out here danger lurks just below your feet.

"I've been out here when its has rained for 20 minutes and there is four inches of topsoil gone," said Bart Maybee, a Kahoolawe safety officer. "And where there was dirt, there will be a 5-inch round one of the big guys lying on the surface."

The navy spent hundreds of millions of dollars cleaning up the bombs before giving back the island. But there will always be an explosive threat.

You don't have to wonder what Kahoolawe looked like before the clean up, there's roughly 23 percent of the island that's never been cleared. This area is one of them and you can see all the bomb fragments littering the ground.

There are other hazards on this scarred landscape, like this rocket launcher with two of those rockets still intact inside.

Each could blow up a large sized home.

But even in this most dangerous landscape, nature refuses to give up the fight for Kahoolawe.

Underneath these deadly rockets, signs of life and hope, as a quail has made its nest here, oblivious to the danger above.

But people can't be so carefree.

And life on Kahoolawe means checking for explosives before digging anything.  Including these simple outhouses upcountry.

As life returns to this isolated island, there will always be parts off limits because of the bombing.

But slowly, ever so slowly, the scars are healing for Kahoolawe.

"Two hundred years of destruction, it's going to take us a while to bring it back," said restoration ecologist Paul Higashino.

While three fourths of the island's surface has been cleared of ordnance, only a small portion has be cleared down to four feet. And nothing has been removed from its waters.