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by Rachel Toyer, student writer

Haley Kuntz, a 21-year-old HPU marine biology student and president of the club, said that its goal is to educate people on how to live in harmony with the ocean and the preservation of traditional fishing methods.

Mokauea Island is one of the only two fishing villages in the whole state of Hawai‘i, said Josh Kellogg, a 22-year-old resident of the island. Kellogg lives with his parents and grandmother. “At Mokauea, we are allowed one house per family. It’s the rule of the state government,” said Kellogg.
The Kelloggs’ house, built on the shore of the island, is a simple and dignified accommodation mainly made of wood. The front porch faces Honolulu Harbor and Kalihi, while from the back of the house, the view is lost in the infinity of the Pacific Ocean.

Currently the island counts 15 people whose genealogy, like the Kelloggs, dates centuries back. Mokauea operates its own government with a president, a vice president, and a treasurer. “The only [outside] authorities to have jurisdiction at Mokauea are U.S. marshals,” said Kellogg.

“ The Coast Guard cannot come,” said Kellogg. “In emergencies, we must call the Department of Land and Natural Resources, and they get hold of the Honolulu Police Department and give them a ride on a boat.” In a recent incident of domestic violence, the police took three hours to get to the island.

But what happened in 1976 is worthy of a political thriller. “The state government wanted to use the land to build a runway extension for the airport,” Kellogg said. “Among other things, plans included a golf course too.”

The state government tried to evict residents, 17 people then, with little success. Evicted islanders weren’t provided alternative housing. Either they had relatives to move in with or they ended up homeless. Those protesting the injustice of the government and refusing to leave Mokauea saw their homes burned down.

“ There are pictures of entire families on boats leaving behind an island totally set on fire,” Kellogg said.

The public was enraged, and public opinion forced the government to cease the harassment.

Now Mokauea families live there on a 65-year lease. The Kelloggs have 30 years left. After that it is up to the state government whether to renew the lease or not.

Mokauea used to be self-sufficient, thanks to its fish pond, which was naturally replenished from the ocean, and its reef, which was until recently an abundant fishing resource. The fish from Mokauea exclusively fed the Hawaiian royalty.

Now, the pond is too shallow and covered with an invasive algae species that makes it an unfriendly environment to fish. The reef is also gone, broken up by invasive algae and mangrove roots.

“ Invasive algae takes off the oxygen from the water, decomposing the coral and local algae, which is why the sand is muddy and dark colored,” said Kuntz. “The decomposed organic material concentrates an excessive amount of nutrients destroying the habitat of the island.”

Fishing nets, left by negligent fishermen, are a threat too. “There is not too many fish because they are caught in the abandoned nets and left to rot because nobody picks up the nets,” said Kellogg.

Mokauea still holds traces of its ancient inhabitants, including a 200-year-old canoe and a few wooden tikis eroded by the wind. But Mokauea is a cornucopia of artifacts from modern civilization.
The island is also highly polluted by debris and trash from Honolulu, particularly Waikiki.

“ It gets dramatic when it rains,” said Kuntz. That’s when large amounts of trash harbor at Mokauea.
“ A refrigerator got washed to my house, once,” said Kellogg.

Mokauea has turned into an open-air city dump, packed with shattered beer bottles, syringes, bicycles, tires, and old shoes.

“ We try to come at least once a month to clean up,” Kuntz said, referring the Mokauea Island Club.
Kellogg is optimistic about the future. “There has been a lot done,” he said.

Nonprofit organizations, like the Limu Project, are working to restore the local algae population and the operability of the pond.

Anyone at HPU interested helping preserve Mokauea Island should e-mail hkuntz@campus.hpu.edu.

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