The smallest island in the Hawaiian chain, Kaho’olawe is the only one of the eight main islands with no permanent residents. It was once the site of a bombing range for the US Navy, and recently there are more concerted efforts underway to clean up the damage and dangerous refuse of the past so the island can get back to its former splendor. And, presumably, so they can open it up to tourism.
Kaho’olawe is about seven miles off the coast of Maui, so it’s visible from some points on that island. While its geographic position means that it’s drier than some of the other Hawaiian islands, the fact that it was a bombing range didn’t help – the top levels of soil over a quarter of the island have been eroded away. Long before it was a bombing range Kaho’olawe did actually have a small resident population, and in the early 1800s it was even used as a male penal colony.
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The first attempt to preserve the island came in the early 1900s, but it didn’t last. Then, after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Kaho’olawe became a convenient training grounds for US Navy personnel. In 1981 the entire island became part of the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1990 live-fire training on the island was ended. A few years later posession of Kaho’olawe was returned to the state of Hawaii, and since then there have been new efforts underway to restore and preserve the island.
Cleanup continues, because not all of the unexploded bombs were found or removed, so at the moment access to the island is strictly limited to people involved in the cleanup effort. If you’re dead-set on seeing Kaho’olawe, however, you can volunteer to be part of the Protect Kaho’olawe ‘Ohana (PKO) crew by contacting the Kaho’olawe Island Reserve Commission at 808.243.5020.