The Inertia Contributing Editor

Green sand beach on the Big Island of Hawaii: Photo: Alexandra Tran/Unsplash

The Inertia

Located on Hawaii’s Big Island, Papakolea Beach is a popular visitor attraction due to its unique green sand. One of just four green-sand beaches in the world, Papakolea Beach is carved into a 49,000-year-old cinder cone that’s part of the Mauna Loa volcano. The beach gets its green color from the green olivine crystals that wash out of the cinder cone.

Located at the South Point in the district of Kau, Papakolea Beach is situated in a remote and undeveloped stretch of the island. Unfortunately, the area is becoming severely damaged from visitors and residents illegally creating their own roads.

“This sacred and treasured place for the people of Kau has been desecrated and exploited by off-road enthusiasts, thoughtless actions of visitors, and sport fishermen despite the presence of iwi kupuna [ancestral bones and burials] and sacred sites,” the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands said in a South Point resources management plan describing the issues. “The people of Kau are pleading to ‘let the land heal’ so that what is left of this fragile ecosystem can be shared with future generations.”

The DHHL is the governing body responsible for managing the land around South Point but they don’t have the funding or the resources necessary to constantly monitor the area. The only legal road for vehicles is the country road down to the Kaulana Boat Ramp; any other off-roading is illegal. Locals frequently offer rides down to the beach to visitors for $20 a ride even though the activity is illegal.


“People are free to do as they wish and our cultural sites have been desecrated,” Nohea Kaawa, a Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner told SFGATE. “Roads are created where they are not supposed to be, and when big rains occur, water floods and follows these roads that lead to sites, thus contributing to erosion at a faster pace.”

“Loose dirt flows into the ocean, covering the reef, and then the fish population starts to decline because the coral starts to die,” Kaawa adds. “We all know that coral needs sunlight to live. The traffic in the area has also decimated ohai, a native shrub with orange and red blossoms that now only grows wild in a few places along the coast. There are families that carry ‘ohai’ in their name, so you know the plant was important to this area. We as Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) are connected to our native environment; plants are ohana (family).”

Unless something changes, the problem will continue to worsen. Those who wish to legally visit Papakolea Beach and marvel at the green sands should do so via the two-mile hike from Highway 11. Although the Big Island isn’t famous for its surf, South Point delivers some solid swell from time to time — be respectful when visiting.

“The true issue will not get solved by creating a management plan that will take DHHL 20 years to implement, the real issue is that humans need management,” says Kaawa. “Humans need to learn to exist in a space with proper protocols and respect for our cultural landscapes. Kau needs onsite enforcement to ensure that there will be consequences if people don’t act right. If there’s no enforcement, what good does creating rules serve?”



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