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The Navy is currently evaluating how to safely remove a pair of World War II-era explosives at Molokini Crater.
The Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Department of Health requested the Navy’s help in dealing with the bombs after they were discovered buried in the sand last year.
While there are several ways to dispose of explosives, Navy ordnance disposal teams typically determine that controlled detonation from a distance to be the safest to humans.
The proposal has angered local leaders and activists who argue that it could be devastating to local marine wildlife.
“It is unacceptable that this has progressed this far without proper consultations and public input,” Rep. Tina Wildberger said in a press release. “I beseech the Navy to use imagination, thought, care and consideration, and not take the easy way out and detonate this ordnance.”
A blog post posted on the website of Maui-based Mike Severns Diving on Thursday caught the attention of Wildberger and local environmental activists. Written by dive guide Pauline Fiene, the post looked at the history of previous Navy ordnance detonations in the 1970s and 80s around Molokini and the damage the explosions inflicted on coral and local fish. It included vintage photos of the destruction.
In a joint press release in November, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and Department of Health announced that “remedial action for two potentially explosive items identified in waters of the Molokini [Marine Life Conservation District] is expected to begin next spring” and that “outreach to commercial tour operators, divers, and boaters is already underway.”
The military used the Molokini Crater as a training range for air and sea bombardments during World War II. Despite efforts over the years to remove unexploded ordnance, many bombs still remain.
Flickr: Forest and Kim Starr
Fiene told Civil Beat that after that announcement she never heard anything more. “There was no discussion of options, no consultation with the community,” she said.
Fiene said she began writing the post after a “whistleblower” within Hawaii’s government told her that the Navy intended to use explosives to detonate the bomb and made no effort to explore possibilities that would allow for the removal of the bomb intact without threatening local wildlife.
“I don’t think we ever would have known about it until after it was done,” said Fiene.
“With all the technology available to the United State Navy, I submit that an alternative to bombing Molokini – which is exactly what detonating the ordnance is – needs to be found,” Wildberger’s statement read.
But the decision doesn’t actually belong to the Navy. The Department of Land and Natural Resources oversees those waters, and many other waters where civilians discover the old bombs. The Navy is providing personnel and resources to carry out the state’s plans.
It’s not unusual or uncommon for the Navy to detonate unexploded ordnance at the state’s request. As recently as April a Navy team detonated several WWII bombs off Lanikai with C4 in partnership with the Department of Land Management.
The Department of Land and Natural Resources, Department of Health and the Navy are still conducting their assessments and haven’t yet committed to a particular time — or definitively decided they will detonate the bombs at Molokini at all.
“The agencies are considering public safety impacts, impacts on recreational and commercial boating, and impacts to the aquatic environment,” said Department of Land and Natural Resources spokesman Dan Dennison. “At this time there are no firm dates or final plans for any operations to remove these [bombs] and the public will be informed in advance of any such operations.”
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Kevin Knodell covers the military and veterans in Hawaii and the greater Pacific for Civil Beat as a corps member for Report For America, a national nonprofit that places journalists in local newsrooms.