Kaho‘olawe is the smallest of the eight major Hawaiian Islands, and lies six miles southwest of Maui. At its farthest points Kaho'olawe is 11 miles long (17.6 kilometers) and 7 miles wide (11.2 kilometers), roughly 28,800 acres total (11,520 hectares/45 square miles). The highest point on the island, Moaulanui (northeast end), is 1477 feet (450 meters) above sea level. Steep cliffs border the southern and eastern coastlines of the island. Its north and west facing sides are more gradually sloped, with a coastline of beaches and bays.
The island is gently sloped with a
diagonal ridge running across it. Steep sea cliffs mark the southern and eastern coastlines while
sloping ridges with bays and beaches characterize the northern and western coasts. Approximately 39 percent
of the island is below 150 meters (500 feet) in elevation. Kaho‘olawe has two offshore islands.
There are no perennial streams.
Located in Maui’s rain shadow, Kaho‘olawe is very dry and arid, receiving no more than 65
centimeters (25 inches) of rain annually with most occurring on the eastern side of the ridge.
In ancient times, Kaho'olawe was called Kanaloa for the god of the ocean and the foundations of the earth. It was a place where Kahuna and navigators were trained and it played an important role in early Pacific migrations. Today, Kaho'olawe serves as a foundation for the revitalization of Hawaiian cultural practices, and provides a unique opportunity for restoration on an island-wide level.
For at least two centuries prior to World War II, the Hawaiian island of Kaho'olawe
suffered the ravages of periodic wildfires, slash-and-burn agriculture, and severe overgrazing,
leaving the island almost barren of vegetation. With the entry of the United States into World
War II. Kaho'olawe, then part of the US. Territory of Hawaii, became a focal point for military
training in the South Pacific. In 1953, the uninhabited island was placed under the jurisdiction
of the U.S. Navy. Due to changes in legislation the island was recently returned to the State of Hawaii.
From 1987 to 1993, the U.S. Army Construction Engineering Research Laboratories
(USACERL) worked with the U.S Navy to develop a cost-effective land rehabilitation
prescription for Kaho'olawe. As part of that effort, a study was undertaken to determine, as
nearly as possible, the original plant species of the island. This database, contains former and
extant plant species, is the summary of these studies. It is hope this resource will be useful in future land rehabilitation projects on Kaho'olawe.