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Click to view the December 2015 thru February 2016 Ocean Status Update.


Early Hawaiians considered the ocean a spiritual entity upon which they depended for their survival. The need for a reliable source of fish and shellfish led them to develop a sophisticated understanding of the factors that caused limitations and fluctuations in marine resources. As a result, they devised practices that fostered conservation and sustainable use of marine resources, including the creation of marine sanctuaries-kai kapu-where marine life was allowed to regenerate. Today, these practices are perpetuated in the Reserve.

As caretakers of the Reserve, the mission of the Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC) includes determining the status of the ocean resources surrounding Kahoʻolawe and improving the health of offshore areas in anticipation of the time the island and its waters are returned to a Native Hawaiian entity.

The KIRC Ocean Resources Management Program is responsible for a number of activities dedicated to enhancing these important ocean resources.


Kahoʻolawe is surrounded by an extensive reef system, which, despite years of bombing, is relatively well intact. The influx of sedimentation is still a problem due to the near-deforestation of the island caused by bombing and feral animals. Due to its intact herbivorous fish populations-which graze on limu-harmful invasive limu species have yet to become established on the reef system as in the rest of the main Hawaiian Islands.

Working with scientific SCUBA divers from the University of Hawaiʻi, the KIRC is monitoring the reef to determine the species diversity and health of coral, fish, algae, and large invertebrates. As monitoring continues, decisions will be made to ensure the health of the reef for future generations.


The waters surrounding Kahoʻolawe are the closest to a natural ecosystem that exists within the main Hawaiian Islands. Because these waters are off-limits to fishing and commercial activities, this region acts as a fish sanctuary that works to replenish fish stocks throughout the islands, particularly around Maui and Lanaʻi.

To fully understand the impact of fish breeding here, the KIRC is monitoring fish habitat, growth rates and-through fish tagging-their travel once they leave the Reserve.


As a reserve, Kahoʻolawe is rich with marine life that includes mano, naiʻa, hahalua, and kohola. ʻIlioholoikauaua, honu, and seabirds such as ʻiwa and koaʻe ʻula also utilize the Reserve's coastal habitats.

The Ocean Resources Management Program is currently conducting an island-wide inventory of these species-doing visual counts by boat and helicopter-to establish a distribution and abundance baseline that will help determine whether their numbers increase as a result of their protection within the Reserve.


Kahoʻolawe's waters include resources that can benefit us all. As such, the health and protection of these waters are our shared concern and responsibility. Because Kahoʻolawe is a sanctuary and fishing is off-limits, the relatively intact fish resources are allowed to achieve their optimal breeding sizes, which yields remarkably larger spawning events that help to replenish fish stocks throughout the islands. Unauthorized use or entrance into Reserve waters is subject to penalties under State law. Your kokua is appreciated.


If you've caught an ʻopakapaka that carries a KIRC black tagging transmitting chip, you are encouraged to report your catch to the KIRC Ocean Resources Management Program. Your assistance will enable the KIRC to evaluate the effectiveness of the island as a source of fish stock replenishment for the waters around Kahoʻolawe and all the Hawaiian Islands. Your help will also be greatly appreciated. To report a tagged fish, contact the KIRC at (808) 243-5889.


Information on Marine Debris coming soon!


Click to view the KIRC Biosecurity Plan 2016


The healing of Kanaloa (Kahoʻolawe) is a physical and spiritual renewal that is deeply rooted in the revival of cultural practices, traditions, and rituals. As a result, activities conducted by the Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC) Restoration Program are guided by the need to achieve a more holistic understanding between man and nature and to place strong emphasis on healing as well as environmental restoration.

Cultural integration is a focus within the Restoration Program. Every year, the planting season begins with a ceremony that consists of appropriate protocols, chants, and hoʻokupu given at a series of rain koʻa shrines that were built in 1997. The shrines link ʻUlupalakua on Maui to Luamakika, located at the summit of Kahoʻolawe. Their purpose is to call back the cloud bridge that once existed between Maui and Kahoʻolawe. With the clouds come the famous Naulu rains that are associated with Kahoʻolawe.


Kahoʻolawe is being planted with native species that include trees, shrubs, vines, grasses, and herbs. More than 100 acres have been planted. As revegetation continues, each acre planted would include up to 20 trees, 500 shrubs, and grasses and vines.

Only about 820 acres of the 12,800 most severely eroded acres will be replanted, but 4,300 acres are targeted for restoration. The remaining land is barren hardpan-soil compacted so severely by erosion that it cannot readily absorb water.


One goal of environmental restoration is to distribute native plant species in abundance and to create a "seed bank" that will enable a native plant community to be assembled. For this to happen, invasive and alien plant species must be removed. Much of the removal is being accomplished using hand and power tools along with herbicide. By reestablishing native species over alien ones, a native Hawaiian dryland forest can be achieved.


Read our brochure: Reducing Excessive Sedimentation in the Hakioawa Watershed of Kahoʻolawe by Restoring Native Ecosystems

An estimated 1.9 million tons of soil are deposited into the ocean surrounding Kahoʻolawe each year through erosion. The KIRC's Puʻu Moaʻulanui restoration project focuses on reducing sediment flow in stream channels before it reaches the sea by promoting growth of vegetation in those areas.

Many of the erosion control techniques involve the use of pili. The pili is grown at the Plant Materials Center, a Molokaʻi facility managed by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. It is then baled and transported to Kahoʻolawe by helicopter.


Kahoʻolawe has no standing source of fresh water and groundwater is severely limited. A rain catchment system has been constructed at the island's highest point, Puʻu Moaʻulanui, which collects about 500,000 gallons of water each year. Once established, plants and groundcover will help retain moisture and reduce the need for outside water. Also, reverse osmosis units at Honokanaiʻa are capable of processing thousands of gallons of water a day.


A $1.5 million grant from the State Department of Health will enable about 1,800 volunteers to participate in restoration activities on Kahoʻolawe over the next three years. Volunteer trips typically focus on watershed restoration and revegetation activities. However, the program also includes talk-story sessions on ancient and contemporary history, current events, and future use of Kahoʻolawe. Volunteers visit significant Hawaiian cultural sites, listen to historical stories, learn chants, and practice cultural protocols as part of the KIRC Culture and Education Program.


Click to view the December 2015 thru February 2016 Culture Status Update.


The KIRC Culture and Education Program is intended to ensure that experts in Hawaiian culture are on hand to provide cultural assessments prior to and during restoration and ocean management activities, and to perform various protocols, ceremonies, and rituals as appropriate.

Cultural programs are tailored to support the KIRC mission, which is focused on managing the Reserve in trust for a future Native Hawaiian entity to preserve and practice all rights traditionally exercised for cultural, spiritual, and subsistence purposes.


Cultural integration is emphasized in all facets of Kahoʻolawe's restoration. Traditionally, the island was considered a sacred place that was closely associated with Kanaloa, the Hawaiian deity of the ocean. Today it is still considered a sacred and spiritual place as well as a cultural treasure with numerous heiau, koʻa, and ahu on the island. The entire island is listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of its archeological, cultural, and historic significance.


Kahoʻolawe is the only major island in the Pacific that has been archaeologically surveyed from coast to coast. There is now a total inventory of nearly 3,000 historic sites and features on the island.

The island retains an intact and unique record of all phases of the Hawaiian past from the adze maker's workshop at Puʻumoiwi to the fisherman's camp at Kealaikahiki, from the heiau at Hakioawa to the paniolo bunkhouse at Kuheia. These and other resources will provide education and inspiration for many generations.


The KIRC staff maintains the cultural essence of Kahoʻolawe by adhering to the ʻAha Pawalu, a protocol book written by the Edith Kanakaʻole Foundation specifically for the KIRC. The book details sixteen chants and nine protocols, basic information that the KIRC staff recognizes and acknowledges as guidelines for proper cultural behavior.

A second book that may be used in the future is the Kalai Maoli Ola, which details specific protocols for different areas of the island.


Various ceremonies and rites are regularly performed on Kahoʻolawe using traditional cultural practices. The annual planting ceremony takes place every October at the beginning of the wet season, and people from both the KIRC and the Protect Kahoʻolawe ʻOhana (PKO) come together to give offerings and open the planting season. Cultural practitioners, usually from the PKO, perform seasonal ceremonies for Kane and Kanaloa during the solstices. Proper burial ceremonies are also held when iwi kupuna are found on the island.


Thousands of high school and college students, as well as the members of various organizations, receive orientations on the history and culture of Kahoʻolawe as part of the KIRC Culture and Education Program. In addition, materials now being prepared in collaboration with the State Department of Education will result in curriculum to assist public and private school teachers in Hawaiʻi in including modules on Kahoʻolawe in their Hawaiian studies programs.


As part of the Culture program, KIRC also cares for and protects the Island's collection of petroglyphs and cupules, known as Pōkāneloa. Click here for more information on Pōkāneloa.

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