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