After more than nine months on Mauna Kea, a demonstration against the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope is coming to a temporary end.

The Royal Order of Kamehameha I, a key group in the protest against the telescope, announced in a video message on Facebook Wednesday that the protesters, who call themselves kiai or protectors of Mauna Kea, would leave the mountain to help contain the spread of the coronavirus.

“It is necessary and prudent that active participation here at Puuhuluhulu be temporarily suspended,” Paul Neves, a leader in the order, said in the video.

Paul Neves, a leader in the Royal Order of Kamehameha I, announces an end to the TMT protest camp. Screenshot: Pu’uhonua O Pu’uhuluhulu

The activists have occupied a spot near the intersection of Daniel K. Inouye Highway and Mauna Kea Access Road since July when the state first announced construction on TMT would resume.

So far, the protesters have successfully halted telescope construction, with project officials saying in December that they would not set a return date until the state could ensure clear access to the construction site at Mauna Kea’s summit.

There’s been a dispute among the TMT International Observatory members, namely India, over whether or not the telescope should still be built on the mountain, which many Native Hawaiians consider sacred.

But there’s not a threat of construction right now, protest leaders believe, so they are asking the public to heed the advice of medical professionals to stay at home.

Crowds of over a thousand have flocked to the protest camp at times, but those numbers have dropped significantly after a blockade of Mauna Kea Access Road ended followed by a call on the public to stay at home after the COVID-19 outbreak began earlier this year.

Camp leaders promise that the protests would begin anew if construction ramps up again.

“Be safe,” Noe Noe Wong-Wilson said in the video. “When the time comes, you will get the kahea.”

The telescope is being developed by an international consortium including the California Institute of Technology, the University of California, the National Institutes of Natural Sciences of Japan, the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Department of Science and Technology of India and Canada’s National Research Council.

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