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Point Taken: Exploring Oahu's remote Kaena Point

People can enter and leave the point through two-door pedestrian gates. Nothing else threatening can.

“There are a lot more people who visit the point now, but there are also many more seabirds and native plants that have begun to flourish,” says Lindsay Young, a wildlife biologist and coordinator of the ecosystem restoration project. “Hawaiian monk seals have begun to pup there, and there is just a lot more of everything.”

A protective fence surrounding the point keeps out predatory animals and invasive plant species.

Some residents and visitors have complained that the fence, despite its nature-blending color scheme, is still something of an eyesore. But the nature-related positives of having the fence in place have trumped aesthetic negatives. 

“There’s been a lot more awareness of how special the place is,” says Young. “The average visitor to the area is much more informed than they used to be.”

A walk around Kaena Point offers a grand visual lesson in Native Hawaiian ecology. The area is abundant with native coastal plants such as ilima, naio and hinahina ku kahakai. A total of 11 plants found at Kaena—including awiwi, puukaa and dwarf naupaka—are on federal endangered species lists. In addition to seabirds, the reserve is a haven for the rare Hawaiian monk seal, and honu (Hawaiian green sea turtles) can often be found resting along the coastline. In the deep waters, just off the point, spinner dolphins play and hunt for food. During winter and spring months, humpback whales are a familiar sight offshore.

A Hawaiian monk seal suns itself on the point's rocky shore.

Steeped in history and legend, Kaena Point is also an area of rich cultural significance. Early Hawaiians believed the point was a sacred place where souls departing the mortal world would leap into the spirit world to join the souls of their ancestors. Though long uninhabited, Kaena was once an important community for fishing, feather-collecting and salt-making. Many plants native to the area were utilized in cultural practices.

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