Big Island

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Updated May 2017

The “Big Island” of Hawaii is, as the nickname implies, the largest of the Hawaiian Islands. Hawaii island has 4,028 square miles of land and is more than five and a half times the size of the next largest island, Maui. Hawaii is the most eastern and southern island in the main chain and also the largest island in the Unites States.

 

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The Basics

Hawaii island has two main population centers — Kona on the west coast and Hilo in the eastern part of the island. Hilo hosts the Merrie Monarch Festival, a weeklong celebration of Hawaiian culture and arts including a prestigious hula competition.

According to the U.S. Census and Hawaii State Data Center, the population of the Big Island is about 200,000, nearly 14 percent of the state’s total population.

Hawaii island is part of the state’s 2nd Congressional District and has been represented by Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard since 2012.

Mauna Kea on Hawaii – a dormant volcano – is considered the tallest mountain in the world when measured from the seafloor to summit at over 33,000 feet.

Vog – volcanic smog – is a form of air pollution caused by a reaction between the gases from erupting volcanoes and oxygen, moisture and sunlight. One of Hawaii’s active volcanoes, Kilauea, saw its sulfur dioxide emissions increase when a new vent opened on March 12, 2008.

Economy

According to U.S. Census data released in 2010 (the most recent full census), Hawaii County had the lowest median income level in the county and the highest unemployment rate. About one-third of households were also receiving Social Security checks.

The most common jobs on the island were those in sales in office work, management and professional occupations, with over half of the island’s population finding work in these areas. Thirteen percent of residents worked in construction, extraction or maintenance and repair work. Finally, 6 percent were in production, transportation or material moving.

About 15 percent of Hawaii’s residents worked for the federal, state, or local government. About 10 percent were self-employed and the rest were in private industry.

The vast majority — about 90 percent — of people 25 years or older on the Big Island had at least graduated from high school. This rate was tied with Oahu for the highest percentage of high school graduates in the state. Just under one-third of residents had a bachelor’s degree or higher.

One of the major draws for tourists is Volcanoes National Park. Kiluea, a world-famous volcano, has been continuously spewing lava since 1983.

 Land

The Big Island is the largest island in the state of Hawaii. It has 4,028 miles of square land and is larger than all of the other major islands combined.

Hawaii was built from five separate volcanoes: Kohala (extinct), Mauna Kea (dormant), Hualalai (dormant), Mauna Loa (active) and Kilauea (active, continuously erupting since 1983). Due to the Mauna Loa and Kilauea eruptions, Hawaii is still a growing island.

Hawaii’s most prominent peak is Mauna Kea. When measured from the seafloor to its summit, it is the tallest mountain on Earth at over 33,000 feet. Measured above sea level, it reaches 13,803 feet.

History

The precise date of Polynesian settlers arriving in Hawaii is unknown but is estimated to be between 800-1000 AD. They came to Hawaii in double-hulled sailing canoes, using the stars to navigate, from the Marquesas to the Hawaiian Islands. Others are thought to have sailed from Samoa, Tahiti and possibly Tonga.

After the arrival of Captain James Cook in January of 1787, the islands would undergo an intense period of change.

Kamehameha, a young chief from Kohala, witnessed Cook’s death at Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island. He went on to unite all the islands after a long campaign of war beginning on Hawaii island and ending on Kauai.

Kamehameha became known as “Kamehameha the Great” for the accomplishment and established diplomatic ties with Westerners.

The Kingdom of Hawaii was officially established in 1810 under his rule. Kamehameha named the islands after his homeland of Hawaii island.

In 1893, a group of U.S. annexationists, led by Lorrin A. Thurston, fabricated a story that Americans were under attack in Hawaii. On Jan. 17 of that year, Marines from the USS Boston aided the annexationists in the successful overthrow of the monarchy.

Hawaii became a territory of the United States and in 1959 became a state.

Sugarcane, as with many of the other Hawaiian Islands, was the backbone of the Big Island’s economy beginning in the 19th century. However, by the middle of the 1950s, the industry began to downsize and would disappear entirely before 2000.

Today, the vast majority of Hawaii island’s economy is stimulated through tourism. Resorts and hotels lie primarily along the western coast of the island and provide thousands of jobs to local residents.

Big Island
Big Island Mayor Harry Kim Has Another Bout Of Pneumonia Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Big Island Mayor Harry Kim Has Another Bout Of Pneumonia

Kim, who has been at the forefront of the county’s response to the eruption of the Kilauea volcano, suffered two heart attacks in April.

Eruption Brings Back Memories For Those Who Were In Lava’s Path Before AP

Eruption Brings Back Memories For Those Who Were In Lava’s Path Before

Kilauea has covered large swathes of the Big Island’s rural Puna district several times over the past century.

Big Island: Distant Eruption Has Major Impact On Kona-Kohala Coast Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Big Island: Distant Eruption Has Major Impact On Kona-Kohala Coast

West side residents and businesses are dealing with vog and a downturn in business, including some people cancelling their visits.

Vog From Kilauea Increases The Need For Classroom Air Conditioning Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Vog From Kilauea Increases The Need For Classroom Air Conditioning

The last weeks of the school year were hard on some Big Island schools, and there’s concern about what’ll happen when they reopen Aug. 6.

New Coastline Emerges As Kilauea Pumps More Lava To The Sea AP

New Coastline Emerges As Kilauea Pumps More Lava To The Sea

Lava-formed land masses within the national park become federal land, and any ocean entries outside the park become state land.

Scientists Reap Data From The Rumbling Kilauea Volcano AP

Scientists Reap Data From The Rumbling Kilauea Volcano

Better technology has meant scientists have been able to accurately forecast Kilauea’s behavior as it sputters over Puna.

Entire Neighborhood Vanishes As Lava Gushes In AP

Entire Neighborhood Vanishes As Lava Gushes In

Vacationland has been smothered and Kapoho Bay “is completely filled in.”

Hundreds Of Additional Homes Lost To Lava AP

Hundreds Of Additional Homes Lost To Lava

Most were in Kapoho Beach Lots and Vacationland. Meanwhile, lava has completely filled Kapoho Bay.

Lava Has Now Destroyed 117 Big Island Homes Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Lava Has Now Destroyed 117 Big Island Homes

New helicopter footage shows lava entering the ocean at Kapoho Bay.

Big Island: Volcano Evacuees Create ‘A Community Within A Community’

Big Island: Volcano Evacuees Create ‘A Community Within A Community’

More than 200 evacuees are staying at a regional recreational center in Pahoa, with some living in tents and vehicles.

Lava Burns Two Buildings At Geothermal Plant Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Lava Burns Two Buildings At Geothermal Plant

Man arrested after bypassing a checkpoint and driving his truck into hardened lava.

‘Eerie’ Blue Flames Burn In Cracks Caused By Kilauea Lava Flows AP

‘Eerie’ Blue Flames Burn In Cracks Caused By Kilauea Lava Flows

The flames are caused by methane, a gas produced when lava buries and burns plants and trees.