After ‘surreal’ visit, UH students hope they can change Kahoolawe’s future

They got a firsthand look at how decades of military bomb transformed the sacred place for Native Hawaiians.
Published: May. 3, 2022 at 6:58 PM HST|Updated: May. 3, 2022 at 7:01 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - University of Hawaii students got a first-hand look at how decades of military bombing transformed Kahoolawe, a sacred place for Native Hawaiians.

Nine capstone students in UH’s Department of Geography and Environment were invited by the Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission. They were there for four short days volunteering and researching.

Even though a few days of work can hardly make a dent in what needs to be done, students hope they can make a lasting impact.

“It’s really just a surreal experience being able to be up close and see how much devastation was in there on the island,” said geography student Carlos Halili.

Halili spent his time on the island working toward digitizing archaeological sites that were first created in the 90s and early 2000s. His project could help researchers easily access information to those sites.

He comes from a military family and hopes to go into the service after college. He recognizes that the military’s bombing cast a dark shadow on the island.

“In some areas, you can look off and see past the USO markers, there are remnants of bullets, or sometimes you’ll see shell casings of bombs,” Halili said.

Dave Beilman, UH professor of Geography and Environment, thinks those four days will stay with the students for a while.

“Carlos and a couple of other students in my class come from a military background,” said Beilman. “For them to make that part of how they see the world and affect change for the better, they’re in a unique position to make that a reality.”

That’s what Halili wants to do.

“Hopefully, we can be more sustainable and hopefully change things for the better instead of harming the environment,” Halili said. “That’s what I hopefully plan to do. Once my time comes.”

Students worked with the Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission for research with mapping, historical preservation, and evaluating climate event impacts.

“The class was invited to access Kahoolawe and do their capstone projects related to Kahoolawe as part of a KIRC grant project,” said Margaret Pulver, the public information specialist with the commission.

“The students chose project topics that were directly related to Kahoolawe and would potentially provide the Ocean team with valuable data and or findings. We intend to continue working with Dave for the duration of the grant, and hopefully beyond.”

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