|My current work with the U.S. Geological Survey is focusing on the plight of coral reefs. One of our study sites is the island of Moloka'i, Hawai', where I worked with our team several times a year from the late 1990s through the mid 2000s, and then once a year for several years thereafter. The south shore of Moloka'i has the longest and richest barrier reef of all the Hawaiian islands, yet it is beginning to be threatened by both natural and human-induced impacts. Agriculture, coastal development, overgrazing, and eroding highlands all contribute to the sediment load on the offshore reef, smothering coral and adversely affecting the ecosystem. Over these years Moloka'i established a very special place in my heart. The following are some of my favorite pictures of the island.
Molokai's history is entwined with that of the dreaded leprosy, or Hansen's disease. The small peninsula on the north shore of the island, called Kalaupapa, was set apart by King Kamehameha V to be used for isolating patients with this highly contageous disease. Bordered on three sides by the ocean, and on the fourth by the highest seacliffs in the world, persons sent here were effectively incarcerated for the remainder of their lives. Living conditions were horrendous, and supply shipments were few. In 1873, Joseph De Veuster, known as Father Damien, arrived in Kalaupapa to minister to the patients, eventually contracting the disease himself and dying in 1889.
Nowadays, Hansen's Disease is controlled with the use of sulfer antibiotics and patients are no longer kept in isolation. However, a limited number of elderly patients still live on the Kalaupapa peninsula. Many were sent there as small children, and this is the only home they know. In 1980, the Kalaupapa National Historical Park was established with strict guidelines for visitors. Because this is still the home of patients, visitors are limited to those who take a structured guided tour only. To get to the peninsula and board the official bus tour, one can either fly, hike down the 1700 ft cliff on a 2.9 mile trail with 26 switchbacks, or take the famous Molokai Mule Ride. (I took the mule :)
Below Left: Father Damien's St. Philomena Church at Kalawao on the Kalaupapa Peninsula.
Below Right: Father Damien's Grave next to the church at Kalawao.