Exploring Kahoolawe: Volunteers vital to island’s healing

Hundreds of volunteers have been working for years to help transform Kahoolawe from a barren island into a healthy and thriving ecosystem.

For decades, it was used by the U.S. Navy as a bombing range.

The landscape there now is beautiful but barren, with miles of red dirt mixed with hardy foliage, bent into submission by strong winds.

Volunteers come weekly, supplementing the labor for a small paid staff.

“It takes a lot of work. We have a very small staff. It’s by design,” said Mike Nahoopii, executive director, Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission.

kahoolawe volunteers (1)

Volunteers help control erosion, water new plants and other tasks.

“I live in Hawaii and I take the aina for granted, so once in a while I need to get out here and remind myself, with others, not to take it for granted,” said volunteer Ethan Twer.

“People of Hawaii come to Kahoolawe to help the healing,” Nahoopii said. “We want them to become champions for us and learn the way of life, island living.”

For the past 14 years, the state has relied on volunteers to do the restoration — 1,000 volunteers a year with a two-year waiting list.

“I’ve never been here before and I wanted to see what it’s all about and be able to contribute to the rehabilitation of the island,” said volunteer Steph Hsu.

The experience teaches people about teamwork, caring for nature and hope.

“We can come back from this,” Nahoopii said. “We can heal this kind of thing. It’s a very empowering message.”

Click here for more information on how to volunteer.

kahoolawe volunteers (2)

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