Kaho‘olawe History Exhibit | Maui Ocean Center

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Park Hours 9 AM - 5 PM


Kaho‘olawe has long been a sacred and storied place for Native Hawaiians. Steeped in cultural and historical significance, the uninhabited island was once a center for celestial navigation training, agriculture, and spiritual practice. Kaho‘olawe’s modern history is marked by an era of intense U.S. military target practice and the Native Hawaiian movement to reclaim and restore the island.

Maui Ocean Center unveiled Kaho‘olawe: A Story of History and Healing to commemorate the sacred island’s past, present, and future.

Created in collaboration with the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC), Maui Ocean Center has supplemented KIRC’s previously exhibited content from the Smithsonian and Bishop Museum to provide additional insight into Kaho‘olawe’s role in navigation, the marine life that inhabits its waters, and the role of KIRC and their volunteers. Designed to show the power of change, both good and bad, the exhibit follows Kaho‘olawe’s development timeline from the first settlement to current restoration projects.

Illustrating the culture, geography, history, and restoration of the island, the exhibit evokes hope for the future of Kaho‘olawe and each individual’s power to effect change.

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Kaho’olawe history

Nestled just southwest of Maui, the small island of Kaho’olawe carries a history as vast and profound as the expansive ocean that surrounds it. Known to Native Hawaiians as Kanaloa, this sacred place holds deep spiritual significance and is steeped in ancient legends.

For centuries, Kaho’olawe served as a training ground for Hawaiian warriors, who honed their skills on its rugged terrain before venturing into battle. It was also a place of pilgrimage for those seeking healing and guidance from the gods. The island’s barren landscape belies its vibrant past – once covered in lush vegetation and inhabited by thriving communities.

However, in more recent decades, tragedy struck Kaho’olawe when it became a target for military bombing exercises. This devastating period lasted over 50 years until public outcry led to the cessation of bombings in 1990. Today, efforts are underway to restore the island’s natural beauty and heal its scars through cultural preservation initiatives.

Kaho’olawe’s history reminds us of the resilience and strength inherent within both land and people. It stands as a testament to our capacity for healing – not only physically but also spiritually – even in the face of immense adversity.

Maui holds a special place in the hearts of its people. From ancient legends and cultural traditions to the resilience demonstrated through historic battles, Maui’s story is one of strength and healing.

Restoration efforts in Kaho’olawe

Restoration efforts on Kahoʻolawe have been ongoing, with a focus on rejuvenating the island’s natural beauty, protecting its cultural heritage, and addressing the environmental damage caused by decades of military use. 

Restoration projects are working to restore a number of native plant species that have been adversely affected by erosion and invasive species.  Controlling and eliminating invasive plants and animals have been crucial to creating a more balanced ecosystem. The island’s unique ecosystems are supported by native vegetation, which stabilizes the soil, prevents erosion, and prevents soil erosion.

Furthermore, a major aspect of restoration has been the safe removal of unexploded ordnance left over from the military activities. Clearing these hazards has been necessary to make the island safe for restoration workers and visitors. 

Additionally, educational programs like the Maui Ocean Center’s Kaho‘olawe exhibit aims to raise awareness about Kahoʻolawe’s history, significance, and ongoing restoration efforts. This helps connect people to the island’s story and fosters a sense of responsibility for its preservation.

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