The Hike up to the Research Site

From the path, you look back down to Hakioawa and see the discoloration of the nearshore waters. This plume of sediment is one sign of the high rate of soil erosion which plagues the island. The lack of vegetation on Kahoolawe leads to rapid soil erosion, causing large areas of the island to be completely lacking in topsoil.

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A plume of sediment discolors the waters off Hakioawa.

A factor inhibiting revegetation is Kahoolawe's low rainfall. The island sits in the rain shadow of West Maui, so it receives little rain under normal trade wind conditions. Rain cisterns such as this one are an attempt to harvest freshwater for revegetation efforts. Since no one lives on the island, however, it is difficult to maintain such facilities.

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This rain cistern suffers from infrequent maintenance.

One can only imagine what kind of native vegetation thrived on this island prior to the cattle ranching of the late 19th and early 20th century. Cattle and goats from this era began the destruction of the native vegetation, which continued under the U.S. Navy's use of the island as a shelling and bombing practice site until 1990.

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Non-native kiawe trees thrive in the dry climate.

Goats are considered to have been the major culprits leading to the denudation of the island. Loss of vegetation allowed wind and water to cause further erosion. While goats have been completely eliminated from the island, the problems of soil loss and lack of vegetation persist today.

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Soil so dry it is cracking at the surface.

Large-scale erosion in the form of gullies is especially troubling, as these gullies expand quickly during rainfall events. While these are infrequent, they are usually intense, and the lack of vegetation to slow the water movement makes the streams a powerful agent of erosion. Some of these gullies threaten important archaeological sites on the island.

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Large gullies are carved out during infrequent rainstorms.

Not much is known about the ancient Hawaiians who once inhabited Kahoolawe. One archaeological remnant of importance are the adz chips which were created in what was once an adz "factory." These sharp stone pieces were used as cutting tools by the Hawaiians.

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Remnants of the Hawaiians who once lived here, adz chips are abundant near the research site.

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Author: Cristina Lumpkin
Copyright by Cristina Lumpkin
Curator Lori Glaze
Copyright © 1996
All Rights Reserved.