About the Author

Naka Nathaniel

Naka Nathaniel has returned to regular journalism after being the primary parent for his son. In those 13 years, his child has only been to the ER five times (three due to animal attacks.)

Before parenting, Naka was known as an innovative journalist. He was part of the team that launched NYTimes.com in 1996 and he led a multimedia team that pioneered many new approaches to storytelling.

On 9/11, he filmed the second plane hitting the South Tower. His footage aired on the television networks and a sequence was the dominant image on NYTimes.com.

While based in Paris for The New York Times, he developed a style of mobile journalism that gave him the ability to report from anywhere on the planet. He covered the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and was detained while working in Iran, Sudan, Gaza and China. He is one of a handful of Americans who has been in North Korea, but not South Korea. He worked in 60 countries and made The Times’s audience care about sex trafficking, climate change and the plight of women and children in the developing world.

Besides conflict, The Times also had Naka covering fashion shows, car shows and Olympics. He did all three of those events in the same week (Paris, Geneva and Turin) before going to Darfur to continue reporting on the genocide (it was the fifth of sixth trips to the region.)

Naka lives in Waimea on the Big Island and his writing for Civil Beat will initially focus on his reflections on moving home.


The Navy said no fuel leaked from the plane that skidded off the runway into Kaneohe Bay, but the latest embarrassment dealt another blow to the military’s reputation in Hawaii.

The Navy is doing a terrible job of protecting Hawaiian waters, at least from itself.

Unlike the fuel leak at Red Hill, the latest incident was hard to deny. It’s hard to hide a Navy surveillance and patrol jet after it skidded off the end of a runway and into Kaneohe Bay. It has been sitting atop a coral reef for more than a week.

It’s just another terrible incident in a pattern of pollution and obfuscation that the Navy can’t seem to break.

The Navy’s latest embarrassment coincided with stellar reporting from my Civil Beat colleague Christina Jedra. Her Nov. 20 story about text messages between Navy leadership discussing Red Hill “illustrated how the inept response to a May 6, 2021, leak at the facility laid the groundwork for another in November 2021 that sickened families.”

Like so many of us here in Hawaii, my ohana is intimately tied to the military. We want to be able to wholeheartedly support the individuals who serve with honor and distinction.

I would say that these two essential traits have been woefully lacking from the Navy.

A week after this Navy P-8A plane skidded off the runway into Kaneohe Bay, Rear Adm. Kevin Lenox said he was “mindful that we need to do better in communicating with our neighbors here about our progress.” (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

The text messages were revealed as part of a lawsuit filed by families sickened by contaminated water. In January 2022, when the Honolulu Board of Water Supply sought answers from the Navy about water quality after the leaks from the Red Hill tanks, a former commander in charge of the Navy’s facilities in Hawaii texted a colleague that the “intent” of an email of data sent to BWS was to “inundate them with info already publicly available or provided to the Hawaii Department of Health.” 

The next day, Jedra reported on the BWS seeking more than $1 billion in damages from the Navy to find a source to replace the aquifer under Red Hill that supplied water to 400,000 customers on Oahu, but is now irrevocably contaminated. 

It took a week after the crash before a Navy admiral said he was “mindful that we need to do better in communicating with our neighbors here about our progress.” That was after U.S. Rep. Jill Tokuda’s requests to “over-communicate about the situation in Kaneohe Bay. Especially, since the incident occurred “in her backyard.”

It is so frustrating to see people not learning the lesson of previous mistakes and, obviously, the Navy hasn’t learned from its earlier, and ongoing, pollution of our beloved waters.

On Sunday, Navy divers successfully removed “just about all” of the plane’s estimated 2,000 gallons of fuel without any of it leaking into Kaneohe Bay. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

Besides putting airplanes in the bay and jet fuel in the aquifer, the Navy regularly spills its sewage into Pearl Harbor. Hawaii’s Department of Health was unable to get the Navy to solve its discharge issues so officials had to turn to the Environmental Protection Agency for help. But even after the EPA ordered the Navy to fix the sewage troubles the regular contamination has persisted. 

Pearl Harbor has been Peril Harbor for the people of Hawaii. That’s a cheap shot, but the Navy’s behavior in Hawaii merits it.

The Navy can’t get out of its own way. 

Sadly, the fires in Maui and the Navy’s delaying tactics drew attention away from their malfeasance at Red Hill. Two years later, all of us in Hawaii should still be enraged at the Navy.

The Navy has an enormous footprint in Hawaii and it’s not an unreasonable expectation for it to be a stellar steward of lands and waters it controls. However, Hawaii has been suffering for far too long from its inability to care for our islands’ most precious treasures.

It’s time to help the Navy change its trajectory here in Hawaii.

I’ll write about a possible solution next week on the eve of the most solemn day in Pearl Harbor history.


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About the Author

Naka Nathaniel

Naka Nathaniel has returned to regular journalism after being the primary parent for his son. In those 13 years, his child has only been to the ER five times (three due to animal attacks.)

Before parenting, Naka was known as an innovative journalist. He was part of the team that launched NYTimes.com in 1996 and he led a multimedia team that pioneered many new approaches to storytelling.

On 9/11, he filmed the second plane hitting the South Tower. His footage aired on the television networks and a sequence was the dominant image on NYTimes.com.

While based in Paris for The New York Times, he developed a style of mobile journalism that gave him the ability to report from anywhere on the planet. He covered the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and was detained while working in Iran, Sudan, Gaza and China. He is one of a handful of Americans who has been in North Korea, but not South Korea. He worked in 60 countries and made The Times’s audience care about sex trafficking, climate change and the plight of women and children in the developing world.

Besides conflict, The Times also had Naka covering fashion shows, car shows and Olympics. He did all three of those events in the same week (Paris, Geneva and Turin) before going to Darfur to continue reporting on the genocide (it was the fifth of sixth trips to the region.)

Naka lives in Waimea on the Big Island and his writing for Civil Beat will initially focus on his reflections on moving home.


Latest Comments (0)

The US Military's huge, messy and toxic footprint is completely unnecessary in Hawaii.How can that be true with all the competing and conflicting sovereign interests spilling over into wars?Many years ago the concept of MAD - Mutually Assured Destruction was achieved by the Superpowers Russia, NATO, and the US. And secretly Israel. Recently added to the list was China.The nuclear empowered Superpowers are in a checkmate. If anyone initiates an attack they would suffer unimaginable destruction.The only reason there is the military infrastructure in Hawaii is to engage in US proxy wars in Asia. Looking at the history of unsuccessful US proxy wars - Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and presently the debacle in Ukraine, we can conclude that there is no strategic value of US National Security in promoting these conflicts.Therefore, the people of Hawaii have a moral responsibility to demand the US Military shrink its disruptive and toxic footprint in Hawaii.

Joseppi · 2 months ago

The Marines are also polluting, just as the Navy polluted our fresh water.... There is a huge problem of noise, lead poisoning, and threat from live firing on Puuloa, the long hill of Ewa Beach.The constant reminders from the rifle range loudspeaker to get people’s attention that they are entering a live firing area is very stressful and a reminder that we are occupied since we do not have the right of access to all of our shoreline.

Karen · 2 months ago

This article from Naka Nathaniel is spot on!! The Navy has for years been complacent about their 'stewardship' of land and sea in Hawai'i! WHY?They seem to pass their failures on to different military members of their leadership!When the Defense Secretary came to Hawai'i and toured Red Hill, his presence and speech implied that the Navy would shut down and clean up their mess. What doesn't make any sense is the amount of time it has taken the Navy to implement the cleanup and removal of the tanks!Now, this latest incident of the Naval Aircraft in Kane'ohe Bay ~ how much longer is it going to take to get that out of the ocean and off the coral reef?? Hawai'i needs to put new laws in place that addresses the issue of financial compensation from the military for their irresponsibility in their "loose cannon" actions of their own personnel; and causing undue financial strain on the government and residents of Hawai'i.We must continue to keep the media attention on this problem with the Navy and any of the other military services in Hawai'i who desecrate the land and the ocean, that we call our home.Mahalo Naka Nathaniel for this article!!

Namaka · 2 months ago

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