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My Job: Caring for Kahoolawe

Michael Nahoopii's biggest challenge is finding funding to continue rehabilitating the island

Michael Nahoopii, foreground right, aboard a ship as it approaches Kahoolawe.

Photo: Ryan Chang

Name: Michael Nahoopii

Job: Executive director of the Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission

Experience: Five years at KIRC

Qualifications: In many ways, Nahoopii has prepared for this job his entire life. He first visited Kahoolawe at age 15 during a trip with Kamehameha Schools. Soon after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1986, he became the officer in charge of Kahoolawe from the early 1990s to 1995. He later joined the Protect Kahoolawe Ohana and served as a senior project engineer during the ordnance cleanup.

“I was there for most of the key things that have happened on the island over the past 30 years, from the island being turned over, to the cleanup, to welcoming the Hokulea to Kahoolawe for the first time,” he says.

Biggest Challenge: “By our estimates, we have enough funds to make it through to fiscal year 2016. Past that, we don’t know what the future is going to be, so my goal is to secure some permanent funding or revenue source.”

Toughest Day: “We had been working on a particular project to generate revenue for two-and-a-half years. Then we went to a meeting and it was just squashed in one afternoon. That was rough.”

Rewards: “For me, it’s about the people who come to Kahoolawe. I like working with them and showing them what I’ve learned about the island. While I was in the Navy, our job was to keep Kahoolawe out of the press, because no press is good press. But, now, it’s different. We need public support to continue our mission.”

Commute: Nahoopii lives on Oahu, and commutes to Maui during the workweek. He spends about four days a month on Kahoolawe.

Pay: Nahoopii didn’t disclose how much he makes, but pointed out that he had been earning six figures a year in his previous job as an engineering officer. Accepting his current job meant cutting that in half.

“It was well-paying work, but it wasn’t meaningful work,” he says of his engineering job. “I wanted to do something that was more meaningful, and something that would be a part of history.”

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