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
Alan McNarie: Wait For Drug Treatment On Big Island Can Stretch Months Courtesy of Going Home Hawaii

Alan McNarie: Wait For Drug Treatment On Big Island Can Stretch Months

For those coming out of prison, there are only a handful of residential treatment centers.

Lawsuit: Hawaii County Police Used Stun Gun On Wrong Man Civil Beat

Lawsuit: Hawaii County Police Used Stun Gun On Wrong Man

After he was released from custody, the man was dissuaded from filing a complaint, the suit states.

Alan McNarie: Big Island Crime Problems Seem Bigger On Social Media

Alan McNarie: Big Island Crime Problems Seem Bigger On Social Media

Hawaii County crime isn’t on the rise. But the prosecutor says residents are justifiably upset by a clogged criminal justice system.

Bret Yager: Well Failures Leave Hawaii County Facing Water Cutbacks Bret Yager

Bret Yager: Well Failures Leave Hawaii County Facing Water Cutbacks

North Kona residents have been forced to curtail water use to essentials like cooking and drinking.

Big Island Dairy Sued Over Water Pollution Concerns Courtesy of Kupale Ookala

Big Island Dairy Sued Over Water Pollution Concerns

The complaint claims the company is violating the Clean Water Act by fouling ocean-bound gulches with animal waste.

Bret Yager: The Growing Meat Market On The Big Island Courtesy of Kona Butcher Shop

Bret Yager: The Growing Meat Market On The Big Island

Bolstered by a mobile slaughterhouse and new butcher shops, the fledgling industry is trying to keep it all local in Hawaii County.

How This Hawaii Business Is Using A New Law To Raise Money Hawaii Cider Co./Wefunder

How This Hawaii Business Is Using A New Law To Raise Money

A recent change in securities law allows companies to offer stocks and bonds through Kickstarter-like websites.

Will Popular Big Island Trail Someday Get Toilets? Flikr.com/Forest and Kim Starr

Will Popular Big Island Trail Someday Get Toilets?

Big Island activists have for years unsuccessfully prodded officials to install toilets on the ancient Kaawaloa trail to the Captain Cook Monument.

Bret Yager: Scientists Say There’s Hope For Dying Ohia Trees Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Bret Yager: Scientists Say There’s Hope For Dying Ohia Trees

The deadly fungus is continuing to sweep through the forest but new containment practices are promising.

Will Tiny Homes Help Big Island Farmers? Courtesy of One Island Sustainable Living

Will Tiny Homes Help Big Island Farmers?

Providing housing for farm workers is one way to attract employees.

How A Big Island Family’s Tragedy Is Saving Lives Today Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

How A Big Island Family’s Tragedy Is Saving Lives Today

A couple lost their son in a hiking fall 20 years ago. They turned their grief into a memorial foundation raising money for lifeguards and firefighters.

Kenoi Found Not Guilty Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Kenoi Found Not Guilty

The Hawaii County mayor used a county credit card to buy alcohol and a surfboard, and to pay hostess bar expenses.