Hawaii & Alaska
The new beach at Pohoiki, created by the 2018 eruption of Kilauea volcano and that landlocked Puna’s only boat ramp, is seen here in this 2019 photo from the Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural Resources.

HI - 5 years after Kīlauea eruption created new beach, Pohoiki boat ramp remains landlocked

Tony Sylva has fished out of Pohoiki Bay in Puna on the Big Island since he was a kid. His two daughters, Ku‘uipo and Kulia, have done the same since before they could walk.

But it all changed in 2018, when Kīlauea’s eruption sent lava flowing down the lower East Rift Zone. With the lava came loosened sand, rocks and cobbles down the mountain and all the way to the coastline. A new beach was created. So was a big problem.

The new beach filled in Pohoiki Bay, cutting off Puna’s only boat ramp that provided ocean access for commercial fishing, ocean and volcanic tours, food sustainability and cultural practices.

It’s been five years and no new boat launch areas have been developed to replace the much-needed Pohoiki facilities. The County Council wants that to change.

During its last meeting, councilmembers unanimously adopted a resolution urging the Hawai‘i State Legislature to include as a line item in the state budget for the next two years for $40 million to dredge the beach and restore the 18-foot-wide boat ramp’s ocean access.

It’s the amount recommended by Limtiaco Consulting Group and the preferred option of the community.

The project would require the removal of most of the new beach, or about 215,000 cubic yards of sand and debris deposited by the eruption.

Resolution 91-23 also seeks a commitment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to fund the project.

“We want our ice box back. We really do,” said Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz during the Council’s regular session April 5. “So many folks have fed their families fishing out of Pohoiki’s waters.”

That includes Sylva, who now is forced to launch out of Hilo for four-day fishing trips, spending up to $800 per voyage. When he used the Puna boat ramp, he only had to spend about two to four hours each day, and was able to get to his fishing grounds within minutes. The cost was roughly $250.

Also going up is the cost of maintenance on his boat, which has quadrupled since his trips are so much longer now. He’s also made modifications to his vessel so it can make the long and treacherous trek from Hilo around Cape Kumukahi and back to Pohoiki.

“I no longer can go on single day trips because it is not affordable,” Sylva wrote. “Now, I don’t see my girls for days at a time because I have to make my trips count. My daughters don’t go out on the boat anymore because I don’t trust taking them far out. Hilo doesn’t have the fishing grounds like Pohoiki.”

More than half of the lawai‘a (fishermen) he knows who used to fish out of Pohoiki sold their boats, not being able to make money by launching out of Hilo. Some of their boats can’t make the voyage back to the fishing grounds “we all know and depend on to survive.

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