Oahu’s Last Fishing Village

SUBHEAD: Mokauea Island's community is threatened by rising seas and pollution and lease with state.

By Natanya Friedman on 11 July 2017 for Civil Beat -

Image above: Isaiah Longboy, left, assists with cleaning and digging a drainage area after king tides inundated the center part of Mokauea in late June.From ().

Isaiah Longboy lives in Mililani but spends his free time on Mokauea Island, a 13-acre island known as Oahu’s last Hawaiian fishing village. On a recent morning, Longboy helps Kehaulani Kupihea of the

Mokauea Fishman’s Association take canoes full of students from Sand Island to Mokauea on an educational tour. Once on Mokauea, Kupihea tells the students about the island’s tumultuous history.

In the distance, Longboy takes a pickax and digs a channel to drain ocean water flooding the island from high tides.

“I like seeing the progress,” said Longboy, 17, who first visited the island on a field trip with Mililani Middle School. “That’s also why I come out here, seeing the constant progress being made to the island.”

A handful of residents and volunteers, including Longboy, dedicate their time to the island’s cultural and environmental preservation.

It’s not an easy task. Sandwiched between between Honolulu Harbor and Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, the island faces continuous environmental damage from the nearby industrial activity and global warming.

The island often floods during big tides and residents are constantly collecting trash that’s drifted in from Oahu less than a mile away.

Still, for Longboy and others, the island represents a relic of Hawaii’s past that holds lessons for future generations. Printed on the fishermen’s association’s shirt is their motto: The future is in the past.

That future is also uncertain. The hard-fought 65-year lease granted to the island’s residents will end in 26 years, and the state has no firm plans for the island after that.

“I’m really afraid of when the lease does end, are they just going to take it from us and put Matson containers on there?” Kupihea said.

Image above: Kehaulani Kupihea and students from Malama Aina Field School in Nanakuli carry canoes parked on Sand Island into the ocean. Together they will paddle to Mokauea.

An anthropologist and expert on the island, Kupihea takes students, church groups and businesses on excursions to the island.

“It’s not just cleaning a beach, you actually get a history lesson,” she said. “Once you’re connected, you will therefore take care of the place.”

An area rich in both ancient legends and contemporary land rights struggles, Kupihea considers Mokauea and the surrounding area a wahi pana, a legendary place.

Kupihea traces her own lineage to the Mokauea area.

So does Joni Bagood, a resident of the island and one two families who lease land on Mokauea from the state. Bagood’s father was one of a number of families threatened with eviction by the state in the 1970’s.

Today Bagood considers herself the island’s caretaker.

“It’s not what we can get out of her, its what we can do for her,” she said of Mokauea.

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