Friday, December 1, 2017

A Message from KIRC Chair Michele McLean

The successful projects undertaken by the Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve Commission are the result of an extraordinary formula: a state agency with a strikingly unique mission, innovative grant programs that provide funding for natural and cultural resource management and education, incredible volunteers who donate thousands of hours and immeasurable energy, exceptional financial and administrative support from the State Legislature and Administration and an outstanding staff of dedicated and hard working men and women who can put all of these pieces together.

For several years, the Hawaii Community Foundation has supported a coastal restoration project that combines the efforts of KIRC’s Ocean, Culture, Operations, Administrative and Restoration programs. This project has seen the planting of climate-adaptive plants in coastal areas to stabilize the shoreline and protect significant coastal sites, as well as the removal of invasive marine species that prey on native species in Kahoʻolawe’s near shore waters.

Other team-centered projects include the Seabird Restoration Project, aiming to restore native habitats for endangered species with funding by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in collaboration with Island Conservation, and the Alu Like-funded Hui Kāpehe project, in which interns have learned restoration techniques and worked to restore ʻuala patches at Luamakika, helped to research and implement biosecurity measures at the Kīhei boat house, and trained and served as crew on the ʻŌhua, among numerous other endeavors.

Through direct funding from the State, the KIRC is moving toward energy and financial self-sustainability with the installation of a 100-kilowatt solar array at Honokanaiʻa with 80-kilowatt hours of battery storage. Additionally, Capital Improvement Project funds were approved for the planning and design of the future Kahoʻolawe Operations and Education Center at the Kīhei boat house site.  Both of these projects have benefitted from administrative support from the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), Engineering Division, who assisted with procurement and contracting.

It is a complex recipe that has brought together our staff, our State representatives and officials, various local and national funding sources, and our volunteers; it has produced great results for Kahoʻolawe, and will see KIRC continue to succeed in future years.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

ʻAlalākeiki : What's in a Name?

Flanked by three separate channels and one of the windiest harbors on the map (Māʻalaea), the ʻAlalākeiki ("crying child") channel is the seven-mile passageway crossed by all volunteers, restoration supplies and cargo destined for Kahoʻolawe from the island of Maui.

To the south of ʻAlalākeiki lies the ʻAlenuihaha ("great billows smashing") channel, considered by many as one of the world’s roughest channels due to the significant wind funnel effect created by Hawaiʻi’s northeasterly trade winds funneling between Haleakalā (on Maui) and Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, Hualālai and the Kohala mountains (on Hawaiʻi Island); the tallest mountains in the world when measured from the sea floor.

To the north lies Māʻalaea Bay which also gets its high winds from the funneling effect of the trade winds between Haleakalā and the West Maui Mountains. Kealaikahiki channel lies to the northwest and the ʻAuʻau channel lies further north.

Hālona is the southeasternmost point of Kahoʻolawe, said by Uncle Harry Kunihi Mitchell to have more than 300 winds striking its point. Today we know of 16 of those winds, as referenced in Mele No Na Makani O Kahoʻolawe. The first mentioned Hololua ("two running") wind speaks of the wind that blows from the ʻAlenuihaha side joining another from the Māʻalaea side. When these two winds meet (often in the middle of the ʻAlalākeiki channel, just off of Hakioawa, Kahoʻolawe) they become Holopili (Holo: "running"; pili: "come together"); the second wind named in Mele No Na Makani O Kahoʻolawe. When this occurs, it creates a very confused sea state in the middle of the channel — with two swells from opposing directions running into each other that can make for some very uncomfortable sea conditions.

"Traversing the channel during such conditions tends to make passengers feel sick and uncomfortable," remarks KIRC boat captain Lopaka White, "the ride is rough, slow and tedious. These days, we are lucky to have motors. Sailing through conditions like this only makes it harder because the winds are blowing from all directions. ʻŌhua (our ocean vessel) will list side to side, yaw up and down and even slam when bigger swells are passing beneath before leaving a big trough to fall into. I imagine early residents going back and forth between Maui and Kahoʻolawe experienced this. Even to this day we have the occasional rough trip; I have heard many children, teenagers, and even adults to a lesser extent “scream like a baby”; even if just for a moment the name ʻAlalākeiki still rings true."

Lopaka continues, "other ʻAlalākeiki place name stories have been told: one makes mention of a place near Makena Landing where sick residents would be placed. According to this account, mothers would take their sick babies down to the water to try and break their fever and cleanse them. The wailing and crying of the sick babies being bathed in the ocean at Makena could be heard from a distance, giving way to the name ʻAlalākeiki. In another version, many seabird burrows used to exist along the coastline of Makena/ Wailea — now mostly hotels, condos and large mansions. I can still remember sitting along the rocky coast on the beach walking path at night and hearing what sounded like babies cooing and crying. These were actually Uaʻu Kani (wedge tailed sheerwaters) birds in their nests at night. It was an eerie sound, but my friends and I used to joke around saying it was the crying baby from the channel."

Read on

Saturday, October 21, 2017

27 Years Ago Today

27 years ago today, on October 21, 1990 the bombing of Kaho'olawe was stopped by Executive Order of then President George Bush.

A decades-long protest by the people of Hawai'i was finally heard. Honolulu Republican Patricia Saiki, the leading Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, was backed by the President in her appeal. Rejecting strong Navy objections and reversing nearly 50 years of U.S. policy, Bush ordered the military to stop bombing practice on the Hawaiian Island. A Kaho'olawe Island Conveyance Commission was formed to make a formal recommendation for the Island's use, resulting in the establishment of the Kaho'olawe Island Reserve in 1993 and the Kaho'olawe Island Reserve Commission, or the KIRC, in 1994; its mandate: to preserve, restore and protect the cultural and ecological resources on Kaho'olawe and its surrounding waters.

The 1994 act of Congress conveyed the Island back to the State of Hawai'i, however it held the Navy responsible for a 10-year cleanup of UXO on Kaho'olawe throughout which it would retain control over access to the Island. In November of 2003, a ceremony was held at 'Iolani Palace commemorating the transfer of access control from federal to state hands, and the KIRC launched its now 13-year program of ocean and land management; on-island safety and operations; cultural coordination; and administrative management, including outreach, education, GIS mapping, collections handling, volunteer training and, most notably, fundraising to sustain this work - now and for future generations.

The 10-year cleanup of UXO on Kaho'olawe was funded federally, with 11% of the budget set aside to initiate long-term environmental restoration, archaeological and educational activities within the Reserve. As explained by KIRC Chair Michele McLean, "Twenty years ago, when the Reserve was returned to the State, the KIRC was funded by a small percentage of the federal appropriation made for the clean-up of unexploded ordnance. Provided in payments over many years, the "Kaho'olawe Rehabilitation Trust Fund" was never intended - nor was ever large enough - to serve as an endowment to perpetually support the KIRC's mission of restoration and management of the former bombing range. In the final reports to Congress before Kaho'olawe was returned to the State, it was acknowledged that federal support would be limited and that state funding would ultimately be needed."

KIRC Executive Director Michael K. Nāho'opi'i adds, "Since the last appropriation to the Trust Fund in 2004, the KIRC has worked diligently to establish a permanent funding source that would allow for the continued restoration of Kaho'olawe. Though we have significantly extended the lifespan of program activities through grants and donor programs, we found that the Reserve's critical operations costs far exceed the scope of these charitable resources. It is our contention that this continues to be a responsibility of the state."

Returning to the Legislature each session to make our case, the KIRC finally succeeded during the last biennium, securing $1M in General Funds through the DLNR and an additional $450K through a bill championed by Representative Ryan Yamane. While this marks a milestone in Kaho'olawe history, it only represents a portion of the minimum budget required to maintain operations.

To date, with the help of a strong network of inspired volunteers and grant supporters, we have restored hundreds of acres of Kaho'olawe wetlands, watersheds and reefs; put 400,000 native plants in the ground; worked beside 12,000+ community volunteers; and engaged countless individuals through education & outreach efforts on and off-island.

Today, we celebrate the enormous impact that Kaho'olawe has made, in our hearts and minds and for the advancement of ecological and cultural study and practice. We mahalo all who have tirelessly given of themselves- from volunteers, who spend days at a time in challenging circumstances contributing such a big part of themselves to the restoration, protection and preservation of this important place, to those submitted testimony during each year's long string of hearings.

There is much more work to be done - work that will continue with the spirit and strong will of this community. But today, we celebrate Kaho'olawe.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Kaho'olawe to be Featured at International Conference

The KIRC is pleased to announce its selection as a key panelist at the 2017 International Conference of Indigenous Archives, Librariesand Museums (ATALM) at Santa Ana Pueblo in New Mexico. Commission Coordinator Terri Gavagan has been invited to present the KIRC’s Virtual Museum Pilot Program during the October 12th session “Preserving the Past, Sharing the Future: Tribal Museums and Cultural Centers Leading the Way” alongside Sandra Narva, Senior Program Officer, Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS); Karl Hoerig, Director, Nohwike' Bagowa Museum, White Mountain Apache Tribe, and Fort Apache Heritage Foundation, Inc.; and Janine Ledford, Executive Director, Makah Cultural and Research Center.

“Tribal museums and cultural centers are vital to sustaining cultural heritage and addressing issues of relevance within their communities,” states the ATALM conference program, “to support their missions, the Institute of Museum and Library Services' (IMLS) Native American/Native Hawaiian Museum Services grant program has funded more than 280 projects over the past twelve years that have had noticeable impact on tribal museums and cultural center activities. Panelists will present their experiences on three successfully funded projects in the areas of public outreach, collections management, and exhibition development. Participants will gain insight into the grant program while learning about project challenges and successes, as well as learning about the lasting impact these activities have made within their respective communities.”

It has been one year since the KIRC’s release of theKaho'olawe Living Library; a pilot project sponsored by the Institute of Museum and Library Services' Native American/ Native Hawaiian Museum Services Program that resulted in a free, online archive of a collection of historical Kaho'olawe images and documents – now available for academic, professional and personal development. Since that time, IMLS has supported the KIRC’s work in transforming the Kaho'olawe Living Library from a content management system (database) into an accessible multimedia user experience (mobile app) – aptly named the Kaho'olawe Island Guide. Both the Kaho'olawe Living Library and the Kaho'olawe Island Guide are accessible from the KIRC’s home page:

Kahoolawe Island Guide mobile app
“Being invited to share our work with this international group of professionals is a confirmation of how preserving, protecting and restoring Kaho'olawe is a worldwide endeavor,” remarks KIRC Executive Director Mike Nāhoʻopiʻi, “This presentation will demonstrate how indigenous knowledge and technology through our organization will promote a broader global view of conservation, restoration and aloha for Kaho'olawe – not just for the people of Hawaiʻi, but for all people.”

The conference will bring together 800 attendees from 3 continents, providing unparalleled opportunities for archivists, librarians, museum staff, educators, students, tribal leaders, researchers, and community volunteers, offering more than 100 sessions and workshops covering digital projects, cultural tourism, collection management, fundraising, volunteer development, exhibit production, archives operations, digital storytelling, oral history, endangered languages, staff development, and model library and museum projects.  

Virtual Museum Pilot Program Manager and KIRC Commission Coordinator Terri Gavagan speaks to her goal for the convening as follows: “I think the main purpose is to let people know all of the incredible archival material we have at the KIRC that’s just waiting to be researched and interpreted. Specifically since Kahoolawe is one of a few examples of an indigenous grassroots organization able to go toe to toe with the federal government and win. It also has the potential of being a wealth of information for how indigenous peoples can try to reclaim their heritage/ their culture in a nonviolent way. Additionally, I think it’s a great place to start when looking at how indigenous people can actually work with government agencies in determining how an area is cared for.”

Terri Gavagan
"We are proud that IMLS grants have helped the Kaho'olawe Island Reserve Commission develop its virtual museum," said IMLS Director Dr. Kathryn K. Matthew. "This important project makes historic documents and photographs accessible to the public, fostering a greater understanding of the Kaho'olawe culture and heritage and preserving this critical history for generations to come."

The Kaho'olawe Living Library and Kaho'olawe Island Guide will continually enable access to Hawaiian artifacts, storied places and archival materials encompassed by and through the Kaho'olawe Island Reserve; provide welcoming opportunities to sustain Hawaiian heritage, culture and knowledge through the collection; and preserve historic Kaho'olawe documents and photos for access by future generations of residents and visitors, thereby perpetuating Native Hawaiian culture. Through the digitization, preservation and global sharing of a perpetually growing collection of Reserve items places and stories, this Living Library can now offer a new means of access to Kaho'olawe.

The Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums is a not‐for‐profit educational organization that provides leadership in the development of indigenous archives, libraries, and museums by advocating excellence in cultural programs and services, promoting education and citizen empowerment, and providing the tools and support necessary to meet the challenges of growth and change. For more information, including a list of board members and previous programs, please visit

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute's mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas.  For more information, visit

The Kaho'olawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC) was established by the Hawai'i State Legislature to manage the Kaho'olawe Island Reserve while it is held in trust for a future Native Hawaiian sovereign entity. The KIRC's mission is to implement the vision for Kaho'olawe in which the kino (body) is restored and na poe o Hawai'i (the people of Hawaii) care for the land. The Commission has pledged to provide for the meaningful and safe use of Kaho'olawe for the purpose of the traditional and cultural practices of the native Hawaiian people and to undertake the restoration of the island and its waters. The organization is managed by a seven-member Commission and a committed staff. For more information, call (808) 243.5020 or visit


Friday, July 21, 2017

Starting a New Year with State Support

While the Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve Commission has endured significant downsizing in recent years, the organization looks forward to launching the new fiscal year with support through the 2017 legislative session as well as the Water Security Advisory Group, (Department of Land and Natural Resources, Commission on Water Resource Management). 

With the help of a dedicated circle of Hawaiʻi Representatives and Senators, the KIRC has been included as a line item in the state budget. 15 temporary positions and $1,065,147 for FY18 and $1,097,047 for FY19 in general funds were added for personnel and operating funds for management and restoration of the Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve. An additional $1.5 million for FY18 and FY19 in Capital Improvement Project (CIP) funds were allocated for Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve Native Dryland Forest plantings.

“After years of working with the legislature, including site visits to Kahoʻolawe, operational briefings at our Kīhei Boathouse and a thorough fiscal audit, we were able to gain their confidence that the KIRC could effectively and efficiently manage Kahoʻolawe’s restoration. Through this confidence, the KIRC will be able to continue its mission. We would like to thank our success to the continuing support of our Maui Legislators and especially Representative Ryan Yamane, Representative Sylvia Luke and Senator Jill Tokuda,” acknowledges KIRC Executive Director Mike Nāhoʻopiʻi

Supported by a $100,000 grant made through the Water Security Advisory Group (WSAG), a groundwater recharge project will additionally engage community volunteers in the planting of 10,000 native plants and construction of 500 additional feet of soil erosion control devices geared to restore 100 acres of the Kahoʻolawe’s Hakioawa Watershed. The goal is to capture 67,885,000 gallons of water (thereby preserved by potable means) and reduce soil runoff by 20% (from 1,880 tons per year of sediment runoff to 1,500 tons).

Accelerated land erosion is a major stressor that leads to increased turbidity and sedimentation, severely threatening the sustainability of marine resources and reducing their resilience to climate change impacts. Further, it prevents native flora and fauna from establishing in their home environments, thereby endangering our Island ecosystems.

Since the end of the Navy’s unexploded ordnance cleanup in 2004, the KIRC has begun a race against time to stem erosion and any further degradation,” remarks Nāhoʻopiʻi, “Strategies addressing erosion control, botanical and faunal restoration and the control of invasive alien species are underway, but are restricted by the technical limitations of past unexploded ordnance clearances that create an island-wide patchwork of land use restrictions that hamper restoration activities. This specific funding will position our team to work directly with volunteers so that they become more educated about the impact that Kahoʻolawe has on their home communities.”

“Approximately 100,000 native plants have been established in this watershed since 2003, with ʻaʻaliʻi shrubs observed naturally reproducing from seed,” remarks KIRC Restoration team member Lyman Abbott, “In time, the headwaters of Hakioawa watershed will once again become a secondary successional dry land native forest, allowing native organisms to flourish on habitat-specific plant species that are contributing to groundwater recharge.”

You can learn more about Kahoʻolawe at

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Worldwide Voyage: Kahoʻolawe

On Saturday June 10, navigators, captains and crew of Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage sailing canoes Hōkūleʻa (Hawaiʻi), Hikianalia (Aotearoa) and Faʻafaite (Tahiti) arrived on Kahoʻolawe as part of the final leg of a three year voyage around Island Earth.

Welcomed with oli and hula by Ka Pā Hula O Ka Lei Lehua, led by Kumu Snowbird Puananiopaoakalani Bento, the entire group of more than 40 voyagers waited in the tide until everyone was shuttled from the canoes to take their first step onto the Island in unison. Chants were exchanged in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi and Tahitian before the group of 30-plus halau members, restoration volunteers, Protect Kahoʻolawe 'Ohana (PKO) representatives and Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC) staff lined up to honi each voyager.

“In 2004, Master Navigator Mau Piailug stated at an awa ceremony at Kealaikahiki (on Kahoʻolawe) that this was an important place for the canoes to return to in the continuing tradition of celestial navigation,” remarks KIRC Executive Director Mike Nāhoʻopiʻi, “welcoming the canoes today signifies the future opportunities for Kahoʻolawe to help perpetuate not only traditional navigation but to promote the use of traditional canoes as a means of connection, as embodied by our new kanu waʻa program.”

In October of 2004, the KIRC, together with the PKO, Grand Master Navigator Mau Piailug of Satawal, and the captains and crew members of the eight voyaging canoes of Hawai'i, dedicated an observation platform at Lae'o Kealaikahiki for use as a centerpiece for the education and training of novice and future way finders from the voyaging 'ohana (family) of Hawaiʻi. Led by Lopaka White, the KIRC’s kanu waʻa program (kanu: to plant; wa‘a: canoe) offers an access guide to provide supervision, safety and guidance in Reserve projects while canoe clubs contribute transportation, 500 native plants and a minimal access fee for each seasoned paddler.

“Anytime you can travel to Kahoʻolawe by canoe, regardless of what canoe it is, it moves you,” remarks Lopaka White, who was part of the Hikianalia crew arriving on Kahoʻolawe from the 10-hour voyage from Hawaiʻi Island, “you get a different sense of connection that builds an intimate experience with the place, the canoe, the people you are with and the place you came from because you are never cut off from those spiritual things that happen when you are immersed in the ocean, rain, wind and natural surroundings. You experience what ancient seafarers did.” He continues, “the role reversal of being on the volunteer side exposed me to other styles of leadership. You think more about the skills displayed that make a great leader. Amongst the many lessons learned and experiences throughout the voyage from Big Island to Kahoʻolawe to Molokaʻi to Oʻahu, I can think about new ways to teach.”

The mission of the KIRC is to implement the vision for Kaho‘olawe in which the kino (body) of Kaho‘olawe is restored and nā poe o Hawai‘i (the people of Hawai‘i) care for the land. The organization is managed by a seven-member Commission and a committed staff specializing in ocean, restoration, operations, administration and operations. The mission of the Worldwide Voyage is to chart a new course toward sustainable practices for food, energy and our global environment.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The ʻŌpeʻapeʻa of Kahoʻolawe

In December 2015, the Kahoʻolawe ʻŌpeʻapeʻa Working Group was formed with partners from USGS/PIERC, KIRC, Island Conservation and Maui Nui Seabird Recovery Project — each a partner of the Kahoʻolawe Island Seabird Restoration Project.

From this collaboration, a standardized method was developed to survey the presence or absence of Hawaiian Hoary Bats on Kahoʻolawe by installing bat detectors across the island in varying habitats. An endangered species, theʻōpeʻapeʻa (Lasiurus cinereus semotus) poses many biological questions that need clarification, e.g. are they on island? If so, how do they utilize the island habitat?

After one year of data collection, preliminary analysis has confirmed the presence of ʻōpeʻapeʻa— with interesting discoveries unique to Kahoʻolawe:

  • From the data recorders, the presence of the Hawaiian bats occur only seasonally. 
  • The first bat detection occurred in June 2016 and detections stayed low until late summer where detectors reached a peak detection rate of 26% probability across the island. Furthermore, all 8 of the Bat detectors recorded bats in all habitats across the Island.
  • After September and into December, the detections dropped off until in January the detections ceased altogether. 

In addition to this data, the time of night the bats were recorded revealed another interesting find: the bats were not recorded until 2-3 hours after sunset and only until 3-4 hours before sunrise. This information suggests that the ʻōpeʻapeʻa migrate to Kahoʻolawe and then return “home” on a nightly basis, but doesn’t rule out the possibility of a small resident population. The first year of data shows bats being most active from late summer into winter with the peak detection rate in September.
It is important to note while this is only one year worth of data; this is just the preliminary analysis. However, this answers our initial questions: the entire island of Kahoʻolawe is an important habitat presumably for the insect food resources that this uniquely Hawaiian endangered species feeds on. The ʻōpeʻapeʻa might even be coming over for copulation and breeding. It is hoped that funding can be continued in order to learn more about the ʻōpeʻapeʻa of Kahoʻolawe. The Hawaiian Bat is threatened by loss of habitat, deforestation and mortality due to wind turbines and predators. Future reforestation projects on Kahoʻolawe may enhance the habitat and range of this species.

Questions to investigate: 

  • What is the density of ʻōpeʻapeʻa during the peak times? 
  • Is there a habitat type that could sustain a permanent population on Kahoʻolawe? 
  • How are the wind farms on Maui affecting the seasonal and nightly migrations to Kahoʻolawe? 


The Hawaiian name ʻōpeʻapeʻa, is inspired by the Hawaiian hoary bat's image in flight, which is attributed to the resemblance of canoe sails and the bottom half of the much-celebrated taro leaf (kalo). The term “hoary” refers to their tan, reddish-brown, and silvery coats that appear frosted over. The ʻōpeʻapeʻa is our state mammal.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Questions from the Community: Why do you serve as a Commissioner?

Kahoʻolawe continues to provide us with lessons on environmental responsibility, cultural learning, kuleana, laulima, aloha ʻāina and much more. Because of Kahoʻolawe, we as kanaka must constantly look at how our actions affect people and places. If we bring thought and consideration to the decisions made for Kahoʻolawe, then we will be able to assist all of Hawaiʻi. As a commissioner I know these considerations and decisions are difficult but very very necessary. If I can leave my term satisfied that Kahoʻolawe is on a better footing, then I will have helped a little. I know this though, it is very difficult being a commissioner. —Hōkūlani Holt, Director, Ka Hikina O Ka Lā, Hawai'i Papa o ke Ao, University of Hawaiʻi Maui College

I serve as a commissioner to represent the PKO and as I feel a deep commitment to Kanaloa Kahoʻolawe and a responsibility to assist in ensuring the well-being of the island in perpetuity. One goal during my term is to usher along the implementation of the I Ola Kanaloa plan. One small contribution that I can list in alignment with the plan is the development of the Kīhei Center, which holds amongst other things, long-term revenue generation potential to help fund further implementation of the plan. —Jonathan Ching D. Arch, Land and Property Manager, Office of Hawaiian Affairs (top row, third from left)

I made a commitment to Kahoʻolawe in 2005, when I first started working at the KIRC. When I left in 2011, I did so on the condition that I could be the County's representative on the commission, in order to continue to be involved with this impressive and dynamic organization, tasked with an extraordinary responsibility.  My goal is to support the staff and help obtain secure sources of funding to continue the KIRC's mission. —Michele McLean, Deputy Director of Planning, County of Maui

Friday, September 30, 2016

Ke Welina Mai Kakou! Welcome to the Living Library of Kahoʻolawe!

Two years ago, the KIRC received a Native Hawaiian Museum Services Program (NHMS) grant through the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to help us initiate the KIRC Virtual Museum Pilot Program. This was an enormous honor for our staff and commission, especially amidst a very trying legislative session implying access hindrances to the Reserve.

Click for details 
Based on your feedback, we have properly archived and digitized hundreds of items from the KIRC archive collection - now available for public, online use through the Kahoʻolawe Living Library.

As we move into 2017, we will be releasing a mobile app that will transform the Living Library from a content management system (database) into an accessible multimedia user experience. Presenting a fully functioning map of Kaho‘olawe that enables the user to virtually explore the Reserve and to discover the archived collection piece by piece and story by story, the app will also include "oral history" video segments with stories told by key Kahoʽolawe participants.

Click for details
MAHALO to IMLS and additional Kahoʻolawe virtual museum partners: Hawaiʻi Council for the Humanities and Hawai‘i Tourism Authority’s Kūkulu Ola Living Hawaiian Culture Program.

Our work relies on the ability to educate as many as possible about the resources offered by and through Kahoʻolawe. With your help, we will see the continued preservation and restoration of this vital symbol of the Hawaiian culture and strengthen understanding of and connection to Kahoʻolawe for generations to come.

Enjoy the Kahoʻolawe Living Library today at
Click for details

Thursday, August 25, 2016

KANU Kahoʻolawe: Replanting, Rebirth

The KIRC is proud to partner with visionary artists Jan Becket and Carl Pau to introduce "KANU Kahoʻolawe: Replanting, Rebirth,” an exhibition of paintings and black and white photographs to be premiered at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress 2016 (Sept 1-10, 2016 | Honolulu, HI).

A collection of artwork inspired by Kahoʻolawe’s history, culture and community impact, “KANU Kahoʻolawe” celebrates the 40th anniversary of the first landing to protest the island’s control and use by the U.S. Navy as a bombing range. It is also a tribute to those who have made a lifetime commitment of Kahoʻolawe. (Right: Kiʻi Pohaku, Carl Pao)

“Of course this includes George Helm, Kimo Mitchell, the original PKO members of 40 years ago,” remarks artist Jan Becket, “In addition, it includes all of those who work for the State of Hawaiʻi and have taken on the restoration of Kahoʻolawe Island as a life project and challenge. The on-the-ground practical knowledge they have accumulated — what works and what doesn‘t — is of immense value.”

The smallest of the 8 main islands in the Hawaiian Archipelago, Kaho‘olawe is 11 miles long, 7 miles wide and comprised of approximately 28,800 acres. Decimated of its natural environment through years of over-foraging and military bombing, an estimated 1.9 million tons of soil is lost annually on Kaho‘olawe to erosion. Severely eroded landscapes cover one-third of the island, with runoff choking the Reserve’s pristine reefs and significantly impacting the ocean ecosystem. Its inventory of 3,000 historic sites and features - all part of the National Register of Historic Places - are in constant need of protection from these damaging circumstances. Despite an extensive, 10-year cleanup by the U.S. Navy, unexploded ordnance (UXO) litters one-third of the island plus all surrounding waters, leaving areas off-limits and life-threatening. (Below: Puʻu O Moaʻula Iki, Jan Becket)

The Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC) was established by the Hawai‘i State Legislature in 1993 to manage the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve while held in trust for a future Native Hawaiian sovereign entity. Its mission is to implement the vision for Kaho‘olawe Island in which the kino (body) of Kaho‘olawe is restored and na po‘e o Hawai‘i (the people of Hawai‘i) care for the land.

A treasured resource for all of Hawaii’s people, Kahoʻolawe is of tremendous significance to the Native Hawaiian people and to the hundreds of students, researchers, conservationists and community members who volunteer on and for the Reserve each year.  Together with dozens of grant partners, 10,000-plus community volunteers to date and stewardship partners Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana (PKO), the KIRC works to restore, protect, preserve and provide access to Kaho‘olawe. (Right: Lele, Carl Pao)

Please join us in celebrating this thoughtful exhibition at one or more of the following:

  • The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress 2016 (Sept 1-10, 2016 | Honolulu, HI)
  • Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture (Oct 15, 2016 - May 6, 2017 | Seattle, WA)
  • Dawson Art Project Gallery (Summer, 2017 | Honolulu, HI)
  • Hawaiʻi State Capitol building (Jan. 15 - Feb. 15, 2017 | Honolulu, HI)

Learn more:

Friday, July 15, 2016

KIRC Receives Federal Funding for Museum Project

The KIRC is honored to announce that it has been selected as one of 21 organizations nationwide to receive funding for a FY2016 Native American/Native Hawaiian Museum Services award.

A federal grant through the Institute of Museum and Library Services, this outstanding opportunity is geared to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement.

The $49,976 grant award ($50K award cap) will support the developing Kaho‘olawe "Living Library," a virtual museum offering a new means of access to Kaho‘olawe.

With focus on two major activities: 1) expansion of our digitized pilot project collection of archived Kaho‘olawe materials, as directed by public demand and core program consultants; and 2) the design of an interactive application (or "app") for mobile use; a fully functioning map of Kaho‘olawe that enables the user to virtually explore the Reserve and discover the archived collection, the project seeks to advance access to Kaho‘olawe.

"To the people of Hawai‘i, especially Native Hawaiians, Kaho‘olawe is a symbol of resilience and an opportunity to rebuild a cultural heritage," says KIRC Executive Director Mike Nāho‘opi, "as the only major island in the Pacific that has been archaeologically surveyed from coast to coast, with the entire island listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve’s current inventory contains 3,000+ historic sites and features- encompassing an intact and unique record of Hawaiian history & culture."

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums. Its mission is to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. Its grant making, policy development, and research helps libraries and museums deliver valuable services that make it possible for communities and individuals to thrive.

"By creating access to these resources, we further our mission of providing access to Kaho‘olawe," remarks Public Information Specialist Kelly McHugh, "the benefits offered through the history, culture and ecology of Kahoʻolawe are boundless. This is just one way that we can share and enhance those benefits for and with our community."

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

When Can I Go to Kahoʽolawe?

This past weekend, the KIRC had the privilege of participating in the 24th annual Celebration of the Arts at the Ritz Carlton Kapalua, an event curated by Uncle Cliff Nae'ole. The presentations, panels and cultural experiences were rich, important and thought-provoking - it was a phenomenal event.

A common theme that stood out while representing Kahoʽolawe was "when can I go?" vs. "I've already been." While it was fascinating to meet the people on either end of the spectrum, it was also somewhat discouraging to see that this was the priority subject for those that we met. Is "going" to Kahoʽolawe the end of the conversation, or is there room to learn from, believe in and be provoked by this special place and its history?

It is important to relay that the KIRC is not an ecotourism organization; our mission is focused on restoring Kahoʽolawe. Ideally, that work is done in collaboration with volunteer groups - people that we are incredibly fortunate to work alongside - yet we remain extremely limited in our ability to train, manage and ensure safety in large numbers. The reality is that our volunteer accesses have been cut by two-thirds due to severe budget cuts. This has deeply impacted every aspect of our work - from base camp operations and staffing to outreach and communications. Everyone here has shifted their responsibilities to accommodate complete overhauls in maintaining the restoration of Kahoʽolawe and in participating in educational programs that bring Kahoʽolawe to the people. (As a point of reference, we engaged 791 volunteers on-island last fiscal year and 4,796 off-island. The current fiscal year projects 1/3 of those numbers due to staff and budget cuts).

When funds become available, we look forward to hosting all of those with heartfelt passion for this Island. Until that time, volunteer trips are limited to 12 groups per year, arranged 1-year in advance. Our hope is to better understand the motivation or intention that you have to physically accessing the Reserve so that we can best work together to ensure that (safe) opportunity still exists from legislative session to legislative session - for all of us. Without strong operations, safety and management programs, we cannot continue public access to Kahoʽolawe in any capacity. But, by getting to know you and your needs better, we can engage a larger community in "why" this place is important. To this end, we look to the 200 individuals that have accessed Kahoʽolawe this fiscal year. What knowledge and understanding were you able to bring back home with you that others can gain from - right now? How can others feel included? Can Kahoʽolawe be important to those that have not touched its shores?

Your thoughts are welcomed.

(Note: We have 10 ways to get involved listed at for those interested).

Thursday, February 25, 2016

A Message from the KIRC's Executive Director

In the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission’s 22-year history, it has led the restoration of the island of Kaho‘olawe on behalf of both the State and the people of Hawai‘i, oversaw the Navy’s decade-long unexploded ordnance cleanup project in order to ensure meaningful and reasonably safe areas for future inhabitants, and developed long-term plans for the best use and management of Reserve lands and waters.

Since the 2004 departure of the U.S. Navy and concurrent transfer of the Reserve’s access management from Federal to State hands, the KIRC has focused on healing centuries of environmental damage. Subjected to 200 years of uncontrolled goat and sheep grazing that ultimately brought the island to the brink of ecological collapse, followed by 50 years as a military weapons test range that caused unremitting environmental damage, the risks and difficulties associated with the recovery of Kaho‘olawe could not have been imagined.

Through innovative programs designed to overcome A) the inherent complications of working on a remote, isolated island with minimal infrastructure, and B) the residual risks associated with remnant munitions that are still present on land and in the water surrounding the island, the KIRC has seen great success in its work. Intensive out plantings and strategically placed erosion control projects have prompted the healing of a scarred landscape that has progressively allowed a native Hawaiian ecosystem to once again flourish. As these restored areas flourish, so too does the culture.

Through vital collaborations with partners in the field and volunteer groups like the Polynesian Voyaging Society, Americorps, Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs, Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana and a concentrated student involvement, we have replanted 600+ acres of the hardpan, reintroduced traditional cultural practices, protected and preserved significant cultural resources and iwi of our kūpuna and developed strategic plans to oversee the future vision for Kaho‘olawe as a culturally significant homeland for the people of Hawai‘i. The work to restore Kaho‘olawe has generated its own restorative powers to heal and energize the people that have touched its shores. These supporters have not only helped to heal the island, but also our society as a whole — sending a signal to participant communities that this work has real value.

A critical component of KIRC’s successes has been the Federal appropriation that established the Kaho‘olawe Rehabilitation Trust Fund. Through this Fund, the KIRC has been able to establish an integrated culture and natural resource management system unique within the State of Hawai‘i; develop and implement innovative restoration projects; set up an effective unexploded ordnance safety program that allows for meaningful access to the Reserve. Unless we, as voters, convince our legislature that Kaho‘olawe is an important resource to the people of Hawai‘i, funds to continue access and restoration will be exhausted. This legislative session is critical to the KIRC’s continuation of work on and for Kaho‘olawe. We will be championing a legislative package that will present short and long-term funding solutions, but we need your help to ensure its passage. Please visit to learn about how you can help get our proposed bills passed this session, maintaining access to the Reserve and continuing our kuleana as citizens.

Michael K. Nāho‘opi‘i
Executive Director, Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Kahoʻolawe Mural Art Program

Some of the mural art program's youth participants
Earlier this year, the KIRC formed a collaboration with Kihei Charter School and Maui artists geared to engage the next generation in restoring, protecting and preserving Kahoʽolawe while also prompting a community dialogue about the importance of doing this work.

Student presents her ideas for the mural
Over the course of just two weeks, a group of 50+ participants aged 12 & 13 excitedly exchanged word associations, visual concepts and ideas taken from their Mālama Kahoʻolawe curriculum (available at in order to create a public mural to help teach others about Kahoʻolawe. Led by KIRC staff and artists Valentin Miró-Quesada + Jennifer Brown, main themes began to emerge as the students sharpened their messages about Kahoʻolawe into a mural blueprint. Together, and through many versions of their cohesive concept, (via drawings and individual oral presentations), a final image materialized. Within 3 days, the image was transferred to a 40-foot storage container being repurposed as part of a native plant nursery at the KIRC's Kihei Boat House property.

Prepping the container for student participation
"For the seventh and eighth graders at Kihei Charter School, this is an opportunity to work with real scientists, historians, and preservationists in the field, getting their hands dirty, and making meaningful connections between the things they learn in class and the world around them," states former school director Jen Fordyce, "For some of our kids, it is the best part of coming to school (and the kind of experience that will hopefully keep them from dropping out in the future)."

By learning to work together, contributing ideas and gradually incorporating parts of everyone's perception, participating youth significantly impacted the space, the community and the way those passing by the mural might consider Kahoʻolawe.

Students collaborate on mural vision
Today, just past the Kihei Boat Ramp, you can see their work of art which illustrates Kahoʻolawe volunteers requesting permission to serve Kanaloa (personified by the kino lau, or body form, of the heʻe, or octopus), with hoʻokupu of native plants - just as bid by protocol. 

The mural was unveiled at the KIRC's inaugural Mahinaʻai Night in May of 2015, an important part of the mural making process offering time for reflection. This Thursday, November 19, we invite you and your ʻohana to join us at our culminating Mahinaʻai Night event; the last in a series of 2015 events sponsored by the Maui County Product Enrichment Program (CPEP), to celebrate the Kahoʻolawe Mural Art Program. Together, let's ponder those same questions explored by these extraordinary young artists and make plans for continuing to share the spirit of Aloha Kahoʻolawe with our Maui community & beyond.

  • What do you see? How does it relate to Kahoʻolawe?
  • What effects can murals have on their environment and the people who see them?
  • How does the mural make you feel when you look at each part?
  • How does working together as a group instead of independently change the outcome?
  • What can you "say" with art and murals?
  • Where else do you find symbols that have a message to tell you?

Mahinaʻai Night is here! Please help us celebrate:
Thursday, November 19, 2015
5:30 - 7:30 PM | FREE
RSVP's Requested here or at 808.243.5020

NOTES: Park at the Kihei Boat Ramp and follow signs for the Kaho'olawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC) - just a short walk to the boat house site (2780 South Kihei Road). Flash lights and closed-toe footwear are strongly recommended as you will be walking on a mulch-lined path amongst kiawe. Because there are no ATM's on site, please bring cash or checks if you plan to purchase food, beverages or to make a contribution to the Kaho'olawe Rehabilitation Trust Fund.
Sample mural concepts
Mural concept
Revised mural concept
And revised again
Student vision
Student vision
Student vision
Day 1 of 3 days of mural install

Day 3 of mural install