On July 21, 2019, the Governor of Hawaii, David Ige, announced the signing of a new agreement regarding the future of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on the island of Hawaii. The agreement aims to balance the scientific and cultural values of the site, which has long been a source of controversy due to its use as a location for astronomical observatories.
The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), a massive telescope that would be one of the largest and most advanced in the world, was planned for construction on Mauna Kea. However, the project faced fierce opposition from Native Hawaiian activists who viewed it as a desecration of sacred land. Protests began in 2014 and ramped up in 2019, culminating in arrests of protestors and a halt to construction.
In light of this conflict, Governor Ige sought to find a solution that would allow for both scientific research and preservation of Native Hawaiian cultural and environmental values. The new agreement involves a number of provisions, including:
– The University of Hawaii, which manages the Mauna Kea Science Reserve where the observatories are located, must develop a new master lease that reflects the principles of stewardship and sustainability.
– Cultural and natural resources on the mountain will be protected through new management structures and protocols, with involvement from Native Hawaiian organizations.
– A cultural and natural resources subcommittee will be established to review observatory activities and provide recommendations for mitigation or cessation of activities that have significant impact on those resources.
In addition, the TMT project has committed to a number of measures aimed at minimizing the impact of its construction and operation on the mountain and its cultural and environmental resources.
While some opponents of the TMT project remain skeptical of the new agreement, many in the scientific community have welcomed it as a step forward for both astronomy and cultural sensitivity. Mauna Kea is a unique and valuable location for astronomical observation due to its clear skies and high altitude, but it is also an important site for Native Hawaiian culture and ecology. Balancing these competing interests presents a difficult challenge, but the new agreement represents an important effort to find a way forward.