Rules or no rules for Kapapa Island?

Rules or no rules for Kapapa Island?
Angie Hi'ilei Kawelo
Angie Hi'ilei Kawelo
Jaap Eijzenga
Jaap Eijzenga
Kelvin Ching
Kelvin Ching

By Mari-Ela David - bio | email

WAIKIKI (Hawaii News Now) - Concerns over birds found slaughtered on a small island in Kaneohe Bay were brought up Monday night.

Windward Oahu residents say more needs to be done to protect the shearwaters at Kapapa Island.

The State has a solution, but some are against it.

Rules or no rules at Kapapa Island - that's what was on the table in Waikiki, at Jefferson Elementary School's cafeteria, where the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) held a meeting to get public input.

Air News Now gave a bird's eye view of the small island, which shearwaters call home. The birds are not endangered, but are federally protected.

Kapapa Island is not just a wildlife sanctuary, it's a cultural treasure.

"That place is really special to our family, has been for hundreds of years," said Angie Hi'ilei Kawelo, a Kahaluu resident.

"We've gone out there and buried iwi back on the island. My uncle has buried back human remains. The island has a lot of culture to us. It's history to us," said Kawelo's cousin, Kelvin Ching.

Kapapa Island however, has suffered from abuse as a result of having no rules there.

"The worst I've seen is toilet paper and crap on our cultural sites, heiau, koa, and another time was of course the helicopters {landing on the island} and another time was a tiger shark with a hook in its mouth drying dead in the sun," said Kawelo.

"We had people living out there, long-term camps, people taking dogs out there, we've had to move dog dishes on several occasions, found dead adult birds, people defecating on the island, jamming sticks in the bird holes, there's a whole litany of things," said David Smith, DLNR's Forestry & Wildlife Branch Manager.

Smith says dogs like to dig shearwaters out of their burrows, and kill them. DLNR is proposing to implement rules to curb destructive behavior.

"Things that would protect wildlife such as no dogs, no fires, we restrict overnight use, closing the sanctuaries at night," said Smith.

"DLNR did propose to include {Kapapa Island} in the rules back in 1979 but there was strong opposition," said Jaap Eijzenga, a wildlife biologist with DLNR.

While many agree some rules need to be implemented, there's opposition to the access restrictions DLNR would impose.

"We've used the island for generations and we want to continue using it. It's not only for fishing, we want to be able to access the island, and there are no guarantees that we'll be able to access it," said Ching.

Ching says his family has taken great care of Kapapa Island, and that the number of shearwaters found dead a few weeks ago does not paint an accurate picture of the situation.

"The overall health of the birds on the island is doing better than when it was 20, 30 years ago and this is a very isolated case," said Ching, who says the recent media buzz is unnecessary.

"It just brings more curiosity to the island and it's not needed. I really feel bringing more attention to the island will do more harm than good," said Ching, "We go out there, we clean the island, we actually removed a boat that was on the island for 2 years...we didn't call the media for that. We took care of the island that we take care of and that we know of. There's a lot of instances where we've cleaned up the island," he added.

Smith does say that 95% of people comply with rules at wildlife sanctuaries, and only 5% are either uneducated, or simply don't respect the aina and the wildlife.

Proposed rule changes aren't just for Kapapa Island. DLNR plans to amend rules at all state wildlife sanctuaries, which have not been updated for nearly 30 years.

This is all part of DLNR's Recreational Renaissance plan, which includes a number of proposals, including State Parks, Boating and Ocean Recreation, and Forestry and Wildlife rule changes.

Monday night's meeting at Jefferson Elementary was the final public hearing for all of the proposed rule changes. DLNR Spokesperson, Deborah Ward, says about half of the people who showed up were boaters who testified on proposed rule amendments to mooring fees. Under the plan, permanent and temporary mooring fees would increase.

Ward says a quarter of the crowd testified on the rule changes at Kapapa Island.

DLNR will accept public comments on its Recreational Renaissance plan until November 19 via mail or email. After that it will review the comments, then present its proposal to the DLNR board on December 11.

The public will be able to review a summary of all the testimonies on DLNR's web site a week before the Land Board meeting.