Contact: Ka`u Preservation 808-928-8144
KA`U CITIZENS RALLY TO PROTECT SACRED PUNALU`U
June 12, 2006
What if the last open spaces in Hawai`i were lost forever? This is the question facing all of Hawai`i today as more and more of Hawai`i's unique, but fragile paradise is being swallowed up by massive resort complexes, gated subdivisions and strip malls. However one Hawaiian community is working to reverse this trend and protect their sacred fishing grounds, burial sites and the nesting site for the endangered honu'ea (Hawaiian hawksbill turtle) they hold so dear. And it may be the beginning of a state-wide trend as the citizens of the district of Ka`u, on the south-eastern shore of the island of Hawai`i prepare to do what ever it takes to protect their way of life. In 2005 they rallied together to raise over three million dollars to purchase several miles of coastline that could have become another subdivision. Now they are hoping to raise even more money and awareness to save the rest and to stop a Beverly Hills developer from destroying their beloved, Punalu`u. Instead of more concrete jungles and pavement, the people of Ka`u have a vision of protecting their sacred lands as a protected resource and "living classroom," where future generations can experience the true magic of Hawai`i forever.
Ka`u is the largest (over 900 square miles) and least developed district in all of Hawai`i. It is home to the largest wilderness area and longest undeveloped coastline in all of Hawai`i. And most of the 6,000 people who live here want to keep it that way. In the past, they have successfully faught off schemes to build a prison and even a space port. And in the 1980's a local group formed to stop a development that would have turned the only public beach into a massive resort. This same group has grown into what is today Ka`u Preservation, a non-profit organization with a mission "to protect the fragile eco-systems and cultural sites of Ka'u so these resources can continue to be a resource for local ohana (families,) fishermen, ranchers and native Hawaiian Practitioners, and remain as a living classroom for future generations." With several hundred members and growing, Ka`u Preservation is dedicated to protecting the unique lifestyle of Ka`u where local fishermen and surfers can still enjoy life without being overshadowed by a huge resort or having to pass through a guard gate; where ancient burial grounds and the massive heiau (ancient temple sites) are revered and protected and not bulldozed and replaced with a "cookie cutter" resort and where open ranch lands are not turned into expensive luxury estates.
Founded by Kupuna Pele Hanoa and her daughter, J. Keolalani Hanoa, Ka`u Preservation is now focused on protecting the most precious resource in all of Ka`u -- Punalu`u Black Sand Beach and adjacent lands. With the support of the community they stopped the proposed development and the destruction of Punalu`u in the 1980's and now with even more support are poised to do it again. "Punalu`u is loved by everyone. It is where families have come to gather for centuries. We do not want any more development at Punalu`u. It is time to restore the damage already done and protect what is left," says Pele Hanoa, President of Ka`u Preservation. A renowned and world respected Hawaiian cultural expert, Pele Hanoa has been a community leader for the past forty years. She was born and raised in the district of Ka`u in the Ahupua`a Punalu`u Wailau and is one of twelve children of Kalanikauleleiaiwi Kuaimoku Bangay and Freeman Bangay, a traditional Hawaiian Fishing Family of Punalu`u for over one-hundred-fifty years. At eighty-three years old she works around the clock doing what she feels is her responsibility. According to Pele, "this is what it means to be Hawaiian. Some want to call me an activist or environmentalist. But I am just being a Hawaiian, caring for the aina (land) as my parents have taught me to do. We simply want the ancient fishponds, freshwater springs, shorelines, coastal plains, and mountain forests protected. We want to leave our children and grandchildren a Ka`u that is protected from the mountains to the sea." Ka`u's rugged shoreline and pristine mountain rainforests are home to countless endangered native birds, plants and animals, including the threatened honu and honu`ea (Hawaiian Green and critically endangered Hawksbill turtles) the Hawaiian Monk Seal, (one of the most endangered animals in the world) and some of the largest burial complexes and ancient temple sites in the state.
Pele became president of Ka`u Preservation in March of this year after her daughter, J. Keolalani Hanoa passed away. "Keolalani died protecting her beloved Punalu`u and we will continue her life's work," vows Pele. Over 1,000 people attended Keolalani's memorial service in Hilo and hundreds gathered to witness her ashes scattered over Punalu`u in May. Keolalani was honored by the Hawaii County Council, the Hawai`i House of Representatives and the Hawai`i State Senate for her life's work as a "warrior guardian spirit for Ka`u." In 1990 Keolalani Hanoa created the Kukulu Kumuhana `O Ka`u Learning Center at Punalu`u. For over 16 years the Learning Center has provided cultural and environmental educational programs to all schools and all ages, immersing students in traditional Hawaiian Teaching and Methodology "Hands on Experiencing." Through a successful collaboration with the Edith Kanaka`ole Foundation, Queen Lili`uokalani Children's Center, and Halauola Native Hawaiian based learning center at Hawai`i Community College Hilo, Keola facilitated culturally based environmental programs utilizing the surrounding environment as "living classrooms" where native endangered species and their habitats become educational tools. "I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Keolalani Hanoa. Her activism and community service will be greatly missed by all," says Hawai`i State Senator Lorraine R. Inouye.
"If we work together we can do this. We can protect Punalu`u for the children" says Earl Louis, Vice President of Ka`u Preservation and who was Keolalani's partner and husband for the past fifteen years. "You cannot take this from the children. They come here every summer to learn what it means to be Hawaiian. Keola dedicated her life to educating the children using nature to teach them. Now the children she taught are teaching the children of today. We will protect all of this land. It is where are ancestors are living and where we will rest one day when our life's work is complete." Earl points up to a grassy rocky hill above his family's home at Punalu`u. "This is where they want to build their condos. On my family's graves."
The volunteer teams of teachers and parents are preparing for the summer classes at Punalu`u. This summer will be the first without Keola. But everyone is pitching in to see her life's work continue. "If the developer gets his way, we will have to find a new place to teach the children," says Pele. "They say they plan to build away from the beach. But where are they going to put 2,000 houses? A shopping center? A Hotel? They say they are going to build a eco-resort. Fine, go build your eco-resort in your own backyard in Beverly Hills." For Pele, this is not just about saving a small strip of coastline. "We must protect all of this land. From the mountains to the sea. If you just protect the coast, the fresh water that feeds these bays will be more polluted than they are now." Recent studies have found high levels of toxic runoff from the golf course built at Punalu`u in the 1970's. Scientist are discovering for the first time how this is impacting the feeding grounds for the Hawaiian green turtle and other marine life.
In March of this year, Ka`u Preservation launched a 30 day in-depth study of the current impact on Punalu`u by visitors. They found that over thirty thousand people visit the beach each month and they are often overcrowding the turtles that come to the beach to rest. "Punalu'u has reached its capacity," says Joanne ---- who helped to oversee the study. "Punalu'u simply cannot handle anymore impact. We need to be sure the turtles and the local community can continue to enjoy the beach without being overcrowded by 5-6,000 new residents. If you allow anymore development here it will be the end to the honu (turtles) coming to Punalu`u and there will be no more room for the local families to enjoy it." The Hawaiian green sea turtles rely on Punalu`u's black warm sand to rest and digest their food. Often, several turtles can be seen resting in the sand at one time. "During the study, we saw many instances where people were scaring the turtles away by getting to close or by overcrowding them to take a picture. Some turtles even turned around rather than dealing with all the people. If these turtles cannot rest on the beach and digest their food properly they will simply begin to disapear." Even more important, Punalu`u is one of the few nesting sites for the critically endangered hone`ea (Hawaiian hawksbill turtle.) "The honu`ea come here to nest each summer." says Pele. "If you allow them to build more houses here, with more lights and more people on the beach, the honu`ea will not be able to nest. As more and more people come, we are seeing less and less hawksbills. Imagine if we allow 6,000 more people to live here. It will be the end of the hawksbill at Punalu`u. The developers will tell you that Punalu`u is zoned for this type of development. However it was zoned this way before the endangered species act was established and before we knew how important Punalu`u is for the honu. We need to work together as a island community and change the zoning to reflect what we know today. This is sacred to us. This is Ka`u. This is not Beverly Hills."
Ka`u Preservation has launched a comprehensive local and global educational and legal campaign to save Punalu`u forever. While continuing their educational programs for children at the Kukulu Kumuhana `O Ka`u Learning Center at Punalu`u and by taking a proactive stance and offering a positive vision and sustainable alternative to destructive development they are having an impact. In 2005 they played a crucial role in helping to save Honu`apo Bay and Fishponds, working to bring together state, county and federal officials and raise over $3,000,000 for its purchase. They launched a website "www.kaupreservation.org" in the fall of 2005 creating an educational platform for community action and awareness and established the S. Kona and Ka`u Coastal Land Conservation Task Force with the support of U.S. Congressman Ed Case. In 2005 they campaigned for the closure of the road on the beach at Punalu`u and the road was closed, making Punalu`u Beach safer for beachgoers and the endangered Hawksbill turtle. And in 2006 they continue a 2 year legal battle to force the removal of a illegal home built on ancient burials, a few miles south of Punalu`u. And all of this was accomplished without a penny of funding. It was done with volunteerism that is the heart and spirit of Ka`u Preservation. "By protecting our most valuable resources we can create jobs, opportunities and a brighter future for Ka`u that is in harmony with nature and the lifestyle of its people," says Pele standing on the black sandy beach at Punalu`u where she was born and where she raised her seven children. "I know we will save it. For Keola and the children. We saved Honu'apo. We can save Punalu`u too."
For more information on the work of Ka`u Preservation you can visit their educational website: www.kaupreservation.org. Or you can call: 808-928-1018 for more information.