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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, August 1, 2002

Coconut Island impact study under way

 •  Big map (opens in new window): Existing and future Coconut Island

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward O'ahu Writer

KANE'OHE — Coconut Island may be a picturesque landmark in the middle of Kane'ohe Bay to Windward residents, but it's a University of Hawai'i property that officials plan to turn into the world's premier coral reef research facility under a multimillion-dollar development plan.

To comment

The deadline for comment or for requests to be a consulted party is Aug. 22.

Mail comments and requests to Group 70 International Inc., 925 Bethel St. Fifth Floor, Honolulu, HI 96813. Attn: George Atta.

The 28.8-acre island is already home to the Hawai'i Institute for Marine Biology. Under a development plan approved in 1998, the island also would have facilities to accommodate applied research activities, educational programs and conferences.

And university officials want to accomplish all this while maintaining the island's natural beauty as well as establishing a model for sustainability.

"It is a rare and wonderful place and I'm hoping the community will embrace it and everybody will become a part of it," said Jo-Ann Leong, institute director.

Group 70 International Inc. consultants are preparing an environmental impact statement, a necessary step in obtaining permits. Anyone who wants to comment on the environmental impact or wants to be informed about the study's progress has until Aug. 22 to submit a request.

The island is to become a model for sustainability, including a newly financed $11 million building, Leong said. Among the goals is a design to fit in with the landscape, perhaps with recycled material and energy-efficiency incorporated into construction.

"Science will drive everything, so we have to develop a building that will fulfill our scientific needs but do it in the context of making it sustainable," Leong said, "We hope to become a model for how these things are done."

The Institute for Marine Biology is known for its coral reef research and is the world's only research center built on a coral reef, she said. The island's 28.8 acres includes 6.15 acres of lagoon. About 3.4 acres will be used for new and existing facilities such as offices, outdoor tanks, storage, library, laboratory and classrooms.

The long-range plan also includes infrastructure requirements and facility improvements to a Lilipuna Road property that has a guardhouse and pier, fire-protection system, access to Coconut Island, water discharge from marine experiments and accessibility for disabled people.

Carole McLean, executive director for the Friends of He'eia, said the group is interested in the development of the island and sharing its resources and research information. The group operates educational and environmental programs at He'eia State Park, which overlooks Kane'ohe Bay and Coconut Island.

Leong, who recently took charge of the institute, said more will be done to incorporate community learning on the island. The Polynesian Voyaging Society and Ocean Learning Academy have already formed a partnership with researchers, but more such efforts are in the plans, she said.

The Ahupua'a Restoration Council of He'eia is also interested in the development of the island, said Donna Camvel, council president. Coconut Island, which has the Hawaiian name Mokulo'e, is part of the He'eia ahupua'a — the traditional land division that extends from mountain to sea.

The organization has initiated community dialogue for the restoration of the He'eia wetland but recognizes that any development in the ahupua'a will affect the whole ecological system.

"The university could be a collaborative partner in the effort to restore the ahupua'a," Camvel said. "They have resources and education and scientific data that would be helpful. And I think the community wouldn't mind being involved in the caretaking of that place as well."

Reach Eloise Aguiar at eaguiar@honoluluadvertiser.com or 234-5266.