Kahoʻolawe (/kəˌhoʊ.əˈlɑːwiː/; Hawaiian: kəˈhoʔoˈlɐve) is the smallest of the eight main volcanic islands in the Hawaiian Archipelago. Kahoʻolawe is located about seven miles (11 km) southwest of Maui and also southeast of Lanai, and it is 11 mi (18 km) long by 6.0 mi (9.7 km) wide, with a total land area of 44.97 sq mi (116.47 km2). The highest point on Kahoʻolawe is the crater of Lua Makika at the summit of Puʻu Moaulanui, which is about 1,477 feet (450 m) above sea level. Kahoʻolawe is relatively dry (average annual rainfall is less than 65 cm or 26 in) because the island's low elevation fails to generate much orographic precipitation from the northeastern trade winds, and Kahoolawe is located in the rain shadow of eastern Maui's 10,023 feet (3,055 m) high volcano, Haleakalā. More than one quarter of Kahoʻolawe has been eroded down to saprolitic hardpan soil.
Kahoʻolawe has always been sparsely populated, due to its lack of fresh water. During World War II, Kahoʻolawe was used as a training ground and bombing range by the Armed Forces of the United States. After decades of protests, the U.S. Navy ended live-fire training exercises on Kahoolawe in 1990, and the whole island was transferred to the jurisdiction of the state of Hawaii in 1994. The Hawaii State Legislature established the Kahoolawe Island Reserve to restore and to oversee the island and its surrounding waters. Today Kahoolawe can be used only for native Hawaiian cultural, spiritual, and subsistence purposes.
The U.S. Census Bureau defines Kahoolawe as Block Group 9, Census Tract 303.02 of Maui County, Hawaii. Kahoolawe has no permanent residents.
Sometime around the year 1000, Kahoolawe was settled by Polynesians, and small, temporary fishing communities were established along the coast. Some inland areas were cultivated. Puʻu Moiwi, a remnant cinder cone, is the location of the second-largest basalt quarry in Hawaii, and this was mined for use in stone tools such as koʻi (adzes). Originally a dry forest environment with intermittent streams, the land changed to an open savanna of grassland and trees when inhabitants cleared vegetation for firewood and agriculture. Hawaiians built stone platforms for religious ceremonies, set rocks upright as shrines for successful fishing trips, and carved petroglyphs, or drawings, into the flat surfaces of rocks. These indicators of an earlier time can still be found on Kahoolawe.
While it is not known how many people inhabited Kahoolawe, the lack of freshwater probably limited the population to a few hundred people. As many as 120 people might have once lived at Hakioawa, the largest settlement, which was located at the northeastern end of the island—facing Maui.
Violent wars among competing aliʻi (chiefs) laid waste to the land and led to a decline in the population. During the War of Kamokuhi, Kalaniʻōpuʻu, the ruler of the Big Island of Hawaii, raided and pillaged Kahoolawe in an unsuccessful attempt to take Maui from Kahekili II, the King of Maui.
From 1778 to the early 19th century, observers on passing ships reported that Kahoolawe was uninhabited and barren, destitute of both water and wood. After the arrival of missionaries from New England, the Kingdom of Hawaii under the rule of King Kamehameha III replaced the death penalty with exile, and Kahoolawe became a men's penal colony sometime around 1830. Food and water were scarce, some prisoners reportedly starved, and some of them swam across the channel to Maui to find food. The law making the island a penal colony was repealed in 1853.
A survey of Kahoolawe in 1857 reported about 50 residents here, about 5,000 acres (2,000 ha) of land covered with shrubs, and a patch of sugarcane growth. Along the shore, tobacco, pineapple, gourds, pili grass, and scrub trees grew. Beginning in 1858, the Hawaiian government leased Kahoolawe to a series of ranching ventures. Some of these proved to be more successful than others, but the lack of freshwater was an unrelenting enemy. Through the next 80 years, the landscape changed dramatically, with drought and uncontrolled overgrazing denuding much of the island. Strong trade winds blew away most of the topsoil, leaving behind red hardpan dirt.
From 1910 to 1918, the Territory of Hawaii designated Kahoolawe as a forest reserve in the hope of restoring the island through a revegetation and livestock removal program. This program failed, and leases again became available. In 1918, the rancher Angus MacPhee of Wyoming, with the help of the landowner Harry Baldwin of Maui, leased the island for 21 years, intending to build a cattle ranch there. By 1932, the ranching operation was enjoying moderate success. After heavy rains, native grasses and flowering plants would sprout, but droughts always returned. In 1941, MacPhee sublet part of the island to the U.S. Army. Later that year, because of continuing drought, MacPhee removed his cattle from the island.
On December 8, 1941, after the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor and Oahu, the U.S. Army declared martial law throughout Hawaii, and it used Kahoolawe as a place to train American soldiers and Marines headed west to engage in the War in the Pacific. The use of Kahoolawe as a bombing range was believed to be critical, since the United States was executing a new type of war in the Pacific Islands. Their success depended on accurate naval gunfire support that suppressed or destroyed enemy positions as U.S. Marines and soldiers struggled to get ashore. Thousands of soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, and coastguardsmen prepared on Kahoolawe for the brutal and costly assaults on islands such as the Gilbert and Marshall Islands, the Marianas and Pelileu, New Guinea, et cetera, in the Western Pacific.
Military and naval training on Kahoolawe continued following World War II. During the Korean War, warplanes from aircraft carriers played a critical role in attacking enemy airfields, convoys, and troop staging areas. Mock-ups of airfields, military camps, and vehicles were constructed on Kahoolawe, and while pilots were preparing for war at Barbers Point Naval Air Station on Oahu, they practiced spotting and hitting the mock-ups at Kahoolawe. Similar training took place throughout the Cold War and during the War in Vietnam, with mock-ups of aircraft, radar installations, gun mounts, and surface-to-air missile sites being placed across this island for pilots and bombardiers to use in their training.
In early 1965, the U.S. Navy conducted Operation Sailor Hat to determine the blast resistance of ships. Three tests off the coast of Kahoolawe subjected the island and a target ship to massive explosions, with 500 tons of conventional TNT detonated on the island near the target ship USS Atlanta (CL-104). This warship was damaged, but she was not sunk. The blasts created a crater on the island known as "Sailor Man's Cap" and they might have cracked the island's caprock, causing some groundwater to be lost into the ocean.
In 1976, a group of individuals calling themselves the Protect Kahoolawe Ohana (PKO) filed suit in U.S. Federal Court to stop the Navy's use of Kahoolawe for bombardment training, to require compliance with a number of new environmental laws and to ensure protection of cultural resources on the island. In 1977, the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii allowed the Navy's use of this island to continue, but the Court directed the Navy to prepare an environmental impact statement and to complete an inventory of historic sites on the island.
The effort to regain Kaho‘olawe from the U.S. Navy inspired a new political awareness and activism within the Hawaiian community. Charles Maxwell and other community leaders began to plan a coordinated effort to land on the island, which was still under Navy control. The effort for the "first landing" began in Waikapu (Maui) on January 5, 1976. Over 50 people from across the Hawaiian islands, including a range of cultural leaders, gathered on Maui with the goal of "invading" Kahoolawe on January 6, 1976. The date was selected because of its association with the United States' bicentennial anniversary.
As the larger group headed towards the island, they were intercepted by military crafts. "The Kaho‘olawe Nine" continued and successfully landed on the island. They were Walter Ritte, Emmett Aluli, George Helm, Gail Kawaipuna Prejean, Stephen K. Morse, Kimo Aluli, Aunty Ellen Miles, Ian Lind, and Karla Villalba of the Puyallup/Muckleshoot tribe (Washington State). The effort to retake Kaho‘olawe would eventually claims the lives of George Helm and Kimo Mitchell. In an effort to reach Kaho‘olawe, Helm and Mitchell (who were also accompanied by Billy Mitchell, no relation) ran into severe weather and were unable to reach the island. Despite extensive rescue and recovery efforts, they were never recovered. Ritte became a leader in the Hawaiian community, coordinating community efforts including for water rights, opposition to land development, and the protection of marine animals and ocean resources. He currently leads the effort to create state legislation requiring the labeling of GMOs in Hawai‘i.
On March 18, 1981, the entire island of Kahoolawe was added to the National Register of Historic Places. At that time, the Kahoolawe Archaeological District was noted to contain 544 recorded archaeological or historic sites and over 2,000 individual features. As part of the soil conservation efforts, Mike Ruppe, an Army Specialist on loan from Schofield Barracks, plus other military personnel, laid lines of explosives, detonating them to break the hardpan so that seedling trees could be planted. Used car tires were taken to Kahoolawe and placed in miles of deep gullies to slow the washing of red soil from the barren uplands to the surrounding shores. Ordnance and scrap metal was picked up by hand and then transported by large trucks to a collection site.
In 1990, President George H. W. Bush ordered an end to live-fire training on the island. The U.S. Department of Defense Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 1991 established the Kahoolawe Island Conveyance Commission to recommend terms and conditions for the conveyance of Kahoolawe from the U.S. government to the state of Hawaii.
In 1993, Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii sponsored Title X of the Fiscal Year 1994 for the Department of Defense appropriation bill, directing that the U.S. government to convey Kahoolawe and its surrounding waters to the state of Hawaii. Title X also established the objective of a "clearance or removal of unexploded ordnance (UXO)" and the environmental restoration of the island, to provide "meaningful safe use of the island for appropriate cultural, historical, archaeological, and educational purposes, as determined by the State of Hawaii." In turn, the Legislature of Hawaii created the Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission to exercise policy and management oversight of the Kahoolawe Island Reserve. As directed by Title X and in accordance with a required memorandum of understanding between the U.S. Navy and the state of Hawaii, the Navy transferred the title to the land of Kahoolawe to the state of Hawaii on May 9, 1994.
As required by Title X, the U.S. Navy retained access control to the island until the clearance and environmental restoration projects were completed, or until November 11, 2003, whichever came first. The state agreed to prepare a use plan for Kahoolawe and the Navy agreed to develop a cleanup plan based on that use plan and to implement that plan to the extent Congress provided funds for that purpose.
In July 1997, the Navy awarded a contract to the Parsons/UXB Joint Venture to clear unexploded ordnance from the island to the extent funds were provided by Congress. After the state and public review of the Navy cleanup plan, Parsons/UXB began their work on the island in November 1998.
From 1998 to 2003, the U.S. Navy executed a large-scale, but limited, removal of unexploded ordnance and other environmental hazards from Kahoolawe. Since the clearance did not completely remove all the hazardous and dangerous materials from the island, a residual level of danger remains. The Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission developed a plan to manage the residual risk to reserve users and to carry out a safety program, and to establish stewardship organizations to work in conjunction with the commission.
In 1993, the Hawaiian State Legislature established the Kahoolawe Island Reserve, consisting of "the entire island and its surrounding ocean waters in a two mile (three km) radius from the shore". By state law, Kahoolawe and its waters can be used only for Native Hawaiian cultural, spiritual, and subsistence purposes; fishing; environmental restoration; historic preservation; and education. All commercial uses are prohibited.
The legislature also created the Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission to manage the reserve while it is held in trust for a future Native Hawaiian sovereignty entity. The restoration of Kahoolawe will require a strategy to control erosion, re-establish vegetation, recharge the water table, and gradually replace alien plants with native species. Plans will include methods for damming gullies and reducing rainwater runoff. In some areas, non-native plants will temporarily stabilize soils before planting of permanent native species. Species used for revegetation include ʻaʻaliʻi (Dodonaea viscosa), ʻāheahea (Chenopodium oahuense), kuluʻī (Nototrichium sandwicense), Achyranthes splendens, ʻūlei (Osteomeles anthyllidifolia), kāmanomano (Cenchrus agrimonioides var. agrimonioides), koaiʻa (Acacia koaia), and alaheʻe (Psydrax odorata).
Traditionally, Kahoolawe has been an ahupua'a of Honua'ula (Makawao), one of the twelve moku of the island (mokupuni) of Maui, and was subdivided into twelve `ili that were later combined to eight: The eight ʻili are listed below, in counterclockwise sequence, and original area figures in acres, starting in the northeast:
The boundaries of all but the two westernmost `ili converge on the crater rim of Lua Makika, but do not include it. The crater area of Lua Makika is not considered an `ili and does not belong to any `ili.
According to other sources, the island was subdivided into 16 ahupua'a that belonged to three moku, namely Kona, Ko’olau and Molokini.