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.



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.


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.


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.


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

January 2018

Wednesday, January 3

Alan McNarie: The Hazards Of Swimming Near A Sewage Plant

November 2017

Monday, November 20

Jason Armstrong: Little Fire Ants Are On The March In Hawaii

September 2017

Monday, September 18

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

Monday, September 11

Lawsuit: Hawaii County Police Used Stun Gun On Wrong Man

July 2017

Monday, July 17

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

Monday, July 10

Bret Yager: Well Failures Leave Hawaii County Facing Water Cutbacks

June 2017

Wednesday, June 28

Big Island Dairy Sued Over Water Pollution Concerns

Thursday, June 15

Bret Yager: The Growing Meat Market On The Big Island

May 2017

Monday, May 8

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

April 2017

Thursday, April 13

Will Popular Big Island Trail Someday Get Toilets?

March 2017

Thursday, March 23

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

Monday, March 20

Will Tiny Homes Help Big Island Farmers?

January 2017

Tuesday, January 31

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

November 2016

Tuesday, November 1

Kenoi Found Not Guilty

October 2016

Monday, October 3

Reader Rep: Was Civil Beat Right To Publish The Billy Kenoi Party Video?

September 2016

Monday, September 26

Reader Rep: Billy Kenoi Should Blame Himself, Not The Media

Thursday, September 22

Profanity-Laced Video Shows Mayor Partying Hard At Conference Party

Friday, September 16

State Investigating Placement Of Human Remains At TMT Site

The Projector: Close Encounters With Molten Lava

August 2016

Saturday, August 13

Harry Kim Wins Big Island Mayor Race

Thursday, August 11

Does This Big Island Community Really Need 30,000 Solar Panels?

Tuesday, August 2

$3.7M To Fight Diseases

July 2016

Wednesday, July 27

The Ghost In The Big Island’s Political Machine

June 2016

Monday, June 6

Big Island’s New Marine Reserve Was A Long Time Coming

March 2016

Wednesday, March 16

Why The Big Island Is So Unhealthy

January 2016

Tuesday, January 12

EPA Fines Hawaii’s Geothermal Plant Operator

Monday, January 4

When People Power Meets Electricity On The Big Island

November 2015

Tuesday, November 10

Poll: Half Of Native Hawaiians Still Oppose Building The TMT

June 2015

Tuesday, June 9

Ohia Disease on Big Island Poses Threat to Native Forests Statewide

April 2015

Monday, April 20

Suit Alleging Massive Fraud Includes Hawaii Geothermal Plant

Monday, April 13

Could Hawaii Geothermal Plant Become a Windfall for Public?

Thursday, April 9

Charge Card Abuse: Big Island Mayor Resignation Is Appropriate

Thursday, April 2

Peter Apo: Mauna Kea Under Siege

November 2012

Monday, November 5

Hawaii County: Kenoi Narrowly Beats Kim In Mayor’s Race

October 2012

Wednesday, October 3

State Officials Will Oversee Voting On Nov. 6 In Hawaii County

December 2011

Thursday, December 22

Hawaii County Council Passes Ban on Plastic Bags

November 2011

Tuesday, November 22

Abercrombie Wants Hawaii Reapportionment Plan ‘Corrected’

October 2011

Friday, October 14

New Plan for Hawaii Legislative Districts Draws Second Lawsuit

Tuesday, October 11

Big Island Democrats Challenge Redistricting Plan in Supreme Court

Monday, October 10

Hawaii Ag Officials Hope to Save Coffee Farms from Spreading Beetle Scourge

July 2011

Saturday, July 23

Hawaii Coffee Farmers Call for Nationwide Boycott of Safeway Stores

Friday, July 1

Supreme Court Ruling Could End Public Financing Pilot in Hawaii

May 2011

Friday, May 27

‘Strong, Swift Action’ Needed to Control Big Island Deer

Tuesday, May 24

Big Island Plans Response to Deer Sightings

April 2011

Tuesday, April 12

Trash Covers Hawaii Beach, and More’s Coming

Monday, April 11

Trace Levels of Radiation Detected in Hawaii Milk

March 2011

Tuesday, March 29

Lava-Sparked Hawaii Wildfire Mostly Contained

Friday, March 25

Hawaii Seeks $30M In Federal Aid For Big Island Tsunami Damage

Thursday, March 24

Firefighters Have Trouble Reaching Lava-Sparked Hawaii Wildfire

Wednesday, March 23

Lava-Sparked Wildfire Threatens Hawaii Forest With Endangered Species

Saturday, March 19

Tsunami Damage Closes Hawaii Resort Indefinitely

Thursday, March 17

PHOTOS: Tsunami Leaves Hawaii Home On The Reef

Wednesday, March 16

Planning for Disaster on Big Island of Hawaii

Tuesday, March 15

Japan-Level Tsunami Damage Unlikely in Hawaii

Big Island a Victim of Tsunami ‘Bad Luck’

Monday, March 7

VIDEO: Hot Lava! Volcano Erupts At Hawaii’s Kilauea

February 2011

Tuesday, February 15

Lava Lake Rises on Hawaii’s Kilauea

Friday, February 4

Hawaii Donkeys Escape Castration…For Now

January 2011

Thursday, January 13

Kokubun Back in Senate, Pitching for Opposing Team

December 2010

Wednesday, December 15

Hawaii’s Volcanoes Could be World’s Shallowest

November 2010

Tuesday, November 23

Coffee Quarantine A Go, Chemicals Optional

Thursday, November 18

I Say ‘Quarantine,’ You Say ‘Protective Measures’

Tuesday, November 16

Will Big Island Gain a House District?

Monday, November 15

Share Your Own Stories of Aloha for Thanksgiving