SOUTH POINT, Hawaii — With all Hawaii County beaches closed until Friday as part of statewide anti-COVID measures, an increasing number of revelers on Hawaii island have been camping on remote areas of the Ka’u coast, where the Hawaii County Police have no jurisdiction and enforcement is lax.

Local residents, many part of the Ka’u Department of Hawaiian Home Lands Association, are acting to keep their community safe from what they see as the dual threats of the ongoing pandemic and campfires during a time of extreme fire danger.

“With all the other beach parks closed, this is placing a huge amount of pressure on us in Ka’u,” said local resident Nohea Ka’awa.

As there are no designated camping areas nor amenities anywhere in the South Point area, residents note an increasing amount of waste that campers and visitors are leaving along the shoreline, including widespread evidence of many spots used as one-time toilets.

Members of the Ka’u Hawaiian Home Lands Association are working to keep remote Big Island beaches safe and free from waste and trash as people try to camp illegally during the pandemic-related shutdown. Peter Serafin/Civil Beat/2020

“We can see toilet paper wherever they’ve decided to do their business,” said Lani Rodrigues, another resident. “It’s all over the place, then another group comes along and it’s somewhere different.”

In response, local families have set up an information station on South Point Road, which provides the only access to the area. They have been talking to everyone heading for South Point, trying to dissuade them from coming down, especially for camping, during the current state of emergency.

In a letter to Hawaii County Council member Maile David, the group notes that “a total of 122 vehicles with camping gear was counted today (Sept. 4) from 8am-5pm going down to Ka Lae (South Point). A total of 40 vehicles who respected the message that was shared, turned away and went elsewhere. Numerous went down just for the day but still in large groups.”

Residents reported 20 different overnight campsites along the coast, some of which contained large groups.

Hawaii County police did go to South Point, where they reminded campers of the statewide quarantine restrictions that prohibit standing, sitting, camping or gathering in groups on the shoreline, and include a ban on tents, camping or coolers.

However, the HPD has no jurisdiction in the more remote areas where these activities are occurring. In those areas, it is the responsibility of the Department of Land and Natural Resources to issue citations to those violating the statewide quarantine mandate, but no enforcement officers were available on recent weekend evenings to respond to complaints.

“Our resources, our cultural and burial sites are being disrespected, ocean is being overharvested and our land is suffering from off road vehicles more than we can bear to witness,” the letter to David says. “During this time of COVID-19, along with Ka’u being in the red zone for fire hazard, we are in a ‘state of emergency’…. WE ARE ASKING YOU TO STEP IN and HELP!”

A sign alerts people in the Ka’u area that local residents are trying to help enforce pandemic guidelines. Peter Serafin/Civil Beat/2020

Hawaii County is experiencing a surge of COVID-19 cases. On Aug. 18 there were 152 cases and no deaths on the island; by Aug. 25 the number had jumped to 383 cases and three deaths — an increase of 152%.

An outbreak in Miloli’i, an isolated fishing village, has resulted in all 300 residents being tested due to a surge in cases after a party. This has resulted in calls to temporarily shut down all access to the village.

In anticipation of another spike resulting from gatherings over the Labor Day weekend, officials closed the Waipi’o Valley access road for a few days.

Even the Ka’u residents who are the most protective of the area are not calling for cutting off all access at this time by shutting down South Point Road.

“We understand where people are coming from,” said Rodrigues. “You love this place. We love this place. But if you come down here and it’s crowded, maybe come back another day. We want to trust people to do the right thing.”

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