Maui WWII ordnance detonation raises environmental concerns

WAILUKU — Hawaii environmentalists, lawmakers and residents have expressed concern over the potential handling of unexploded World War II ordnance off Maui.

There are fears about the repercussions of detonating the decades-old explosives in the Molokini Marine Life Conservation District off South Maui, The Maui News reported Tuesday.

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The state Departments of Land and Natural Resources and Health, the U.S. Navy and other agencies are considering how to quickly and safely remove two bombs that officials say are more than 70 years old and pose serious risks to the public.

Opponents said explosions in the area could cause irreversible damage to coral reefs, ocean life and the island.

The military used Molokini Crater for bombing practice when the U.S. entered WWII. In the 1970s and 1980s, unexploded ordnance was detonated in the crater.

No final decisions about handling the ordnance have been made, officials said.

State officials have warned boaters, divers and tour operators since last year about the dangers of unexploded ordnance around the islands. Disposal teams from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have removed about 185 potentially hazardous items from waters off Oahu.

Some Maui residents and officials oppose exploding the ordnance at the site and suggested alternatives including leaving the bombs alone or removing the ordnance without detonating them.

Democratic state Rep. Tina Wildberger encouraged environmentalists, marine conservation experts and dive professionals to “join me in expressing outrage.”

“With all the technology available to the United States Navy, I submit that an alternative to bombing Molokini — which is exactly what detonating the ordnance is — needs to be found,” she said.

Molokini’s habitat will require decades or more to recover from explosions, University of Hawaii marine scientist Alan Friedlander said.

“To detonate them in place would be an utter disaster based on previous detonations there,” Friedlander said.

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Dive master Pauline Fiene, who has made about 10,000 dives off Molokini and Maui, said past detonations have resulted in areas of reef “obliterated into a fine powdery dust” with no growth.

“It is an iconic landmark for Hawaii, and if this plan is allowed to proceed, the scars will be visible for generations,” Fiene said.

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