The Jewel of the Ka’u Coastline
The beautiful Honu’apo Bay and its surrounding tidal wetlands used to be part of a sugar plantation. Once the plantation closed and the land was recently put up for sale - 225 shoreline acres for $3.4 million - it was dangerously close to becoming residentially zoned and overdeveloped like the Kona coast of the Big Island.
Fortunately, members of the community in nearby towns - Na’alehu and Pahala - weren’t about to let this happen. Forming a community group, Ka Ohana O Honu’apo, and working with the Hawaii Island Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, and The Trust for Public Land, they secured county, state and federal funds to purchase the land from a private developer. They also received donations from private sources, such as the $40,000 given by new landowners in the area.
“What you see here you don’t see in the rest of Hawaii. Or the rest of the world,” says John Replogle, Hawaiian native, board member of the Hawaii Island Land Trust, and field coordinator for The Nature Conservancy. A cowboy for 30 years on the Big Island before dedicating his career to conservation 3 years ago, Replogle loves to explain why this area is so special.
The Ka’u District is enormous in Hawaiian standards - the size of the entire island of Maui or Oahu. The district contains a variety of habitat, from prehistoric rainforest to dry lava desert, windblown grasslands and rugged rocky coastline. Kau’s coast is the longest undeveloped shoreline in the Hawaiian Islands, stretching 80 miles from South Kona to South Point and on to Volcanoes National Park. Two areas with the most pristine and critically important habitat include: Punalu’u black sand beach, nesting grounds for the endangered green sea turtle; and Honu’apo Bay and tidal wetlands, where the Hawaiian monk seal, the state’s most endangered animal with only 1,400 left in the wild, has been spotted.
Replogle says, “The ancient Hawaiians were some of the first great conservationists.” They recognized the importance of the natural world to their way of life and that the mountains, land, and ocean are all connected, and man needs access to them to be healthy and survive. For 2,000 years native Hawaiians have retreated to the coast for some of their most important cultural traditions, such as to the beaches for luaus and the ocean for fishing and canoeing.
Last December when Ka Ohana O Honu’apo organized a Ho`o`laulea (celebration) for the community at a local park, they raised $14,000 towards protecting Honu’apo Bay in the donation box at the entrance, an impressive feat in such a sparsely populated place with only 6 people per square mile. Replogle remarks, “People came out and gave their hearts, even people who have moved away from Ka’u many years ago came through for their Aina (land).”
The land has now been turned over to the State of Hawaii from The Trust for Public Land, and will eventually be turned over to the County of Hawaii. Long term plans for it include re-establishing the natural habitat in the estuary, which was damaged during its plantation days, and creating a nursery for fish as well as a possible breeding habitat for the ai`o, the endangered Hawaiian Stilt bird. They also plan to partner with the Department of Parks and Recreation to create and manage the largest park in the state of Hawaii. The park will contain trails for hiking and camping areas, and most importantly, leave plenty of coastline open for Hawaiians to enjoy as they always have.
Story and photos by Francesca Dalleo