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For the 1999 film, see Molokai: The Story of Father Damien.
Nickname: The Friendly Isle
Satellite image of Molokaʻi.
Map of Hawaii highlighting Molokai.svg
Location 21°08′N 157°02′W / 21.133°N 157.033°W / 21.133; -157.033
Area 260 sq mi (670 km2)
Area rank 5th largest Hawaiian Island
Highest elevation 4,961 ft (1,512.1 m)
Highest point Kamakou
Flower Kukui
Color ʻŌmaʻomaʻo (green)
Population 7,345 [1] (as of 2010)
Density 28 /sq mi (10.8 /km2)

Molokaʻi or Molokai (/ˈmɒlək/; Hawaiian: [ˈmoloˈkɐʔi]), often called the "Friendly Island", is an island in the Hawaiian archipelago. It is 38 by 10 miles (61 by 16 km) in size at its extreme length and width with a usable land area of 260 square miles (673.40 km2), making it the fifth-largest of the main Hawaiian Islands and the 27th largest island in the United States.[2] It lies east of Oʻahu across the 25-mile (40 km) wide Kaiwi Channel and north of Lānaʻi, separated from it by the Kalohi Channel.

The island has been known both for developments by Molokai Ranch on much of the island, for pineapple production, cattle ranching and tourism. Residents or visitors to the west end of Molokaʻi can see the lights of Honolulu on O'ahu at night; they can view nearby Lānaʻi and Maui from anywhere along the south shore of the island. In Kalawao County, on the Kalaupapa Peninsula on the north coast, settlements were established in 1866 for quarantined treatment of persons with leprosy; these operated until 1969. The Kalaupapa National Historical Park now preserves this entire county and area. The shape of Molokai Island resembles a fish or a shoe.


Eastern Molokai with a portion of Kamakou and Molokai Forest Reserve

Molokaʻi developed from two distinct shield volcanoes known as East Molokaʻi and the much smaller West Molokaʻi. The highest point is Kamakou[3] on East Molokaʻi, at 4,970 feet (1,510 m). Today, East Molokaʻi volcano, like the Koʻolau Range on Oʻahu, is what remains of the southern half of the original mountain. The northern half suffered a catastrophic collapse about 1.5 million years ago and now lies as a debris field scattered northward across the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.[4] What remains of the volcano on the island include the highest sea cliffs in the world.[5] The south shore of Molokaʻi boasts the longest fringing reef in the U.S. and its holdings—nearly 25 miles (40 km) long.[6]

Molokaʻi is part of the state of Hawaiʻi and located in Maui County, except for the Kalaupapa Peninsula, which is separately administered as Kalawao County. Maui County encompasses Maui, Lānaʻi, and Kahoʻolawe in addition to Molokaʻi. The largest town on the island is Kaunakakai, which is one of two small ports on the island. Molokai Airport is located on West Molokaʻi. The United States Census Bureau divides the island into three census tracts: Census Tract 317 and Census Tract 318 of Maui County, Hawaii, and Census Tract 319 of Kalawao County, Hawaii. The total 2010 census population of these was 7,345,[7] living on a land area of 260.02 square miles (673.45 km2).[8] Molokaʻi is separated from Oʻahu on the west by the Kaiwi Channel, from Maui on the southeast by the Pailolo Channel, and from Lānaʻi on the south by the Kalohi Channel.


Halawa Bay Beach Park, located at the extreme east end of Molokaʻi

Molokaʻi is split into two main geographical areas. The low western half is very dry and the soil is heavily denuded due to poor land management practices, which allowed over-grazing by goats. It lacks significant ground cover and virtually the entire section is covered in non-native kiawe (Prosopis pallida) trees. One of the few natural areas remaining almost intact are the coastal dunes of Moʻomomi, which are part of a Nature Conservancy preserve.

The eastern half of the island is a high plateau rising up to an elevation of 4,900 ft (1,500 m) on Kamakou peak and includes the 2,774 acres (11.23 km2; 4.334 sq mi) Molokai Forest Reserve.[9] The eastern half is covered with lush wet forests that get more than 300 in (7,600 mm) of rain per year. The high-elevation forests are populated by native ʻōhiʻa lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha) trees and an extremely diverse endemic flora and fauna in the understory. Much of the summit area is protected by the Nature Conservancy's Kamakou and Pelekunu valley preserves. Below 4,000 feet (1,200 m), the vegetation is dominated by exotic flora, including strawberry guava (Psidium littorale), eucalyptus (Eucalyptus spp.), and cypress (Cupressus spp.). Introduced axis deer (Axis axis) and feral pigs (Sus scrofa) roam native forests, destroying native plants, expanding exotic plants through disturbance and distribution of their seeds, and threatening endemic insects. Near the summit of Kamakou is the unique Pepeʻopae bog, where dwarf ʻōhiʻa and other plants cover the soggy ground. .

Molokaʻi is home to a great number of endemic plant and animal species. However, many of its species, including the olomaʻo (Myadestes lanaiensis), kākāwahie (Paroreomyza flammea), and the Molokaʻi ʻōʻō (Moho bishopi) have become extinct. Molokaʻi is home to a wingless fly among many other endemic insects.


Molokaʻi was first settled around 650AD by indigenous peoples most likely from the Marquesas Islands. Later migrants likely came from Tahiti and other south Pacific islands. Although Captain James Cook recorded sighting Molokaʻi in 1778, the first European sailor to visit the island was Captain George Dixon of the British Royal Navy in 1786.[10] The first significant European influence came in 1832 when a Protestant mission was established at Kaluaʻaha on the East End of the island by Reverend Harvey Hitchcock. In the late 1800s, King Kamehameha V built a vacation home in Kaunakakai and ordered the planting of over 1,000 coconut trees in Kapuaiwa Coconut Grove.[11]

Leper colony[edit]

Leprosy (later known as Hansen's disease) was among Eurasian diseases introduced to the Hawaiʻian islands by traders, sailors, workers and others who lived in societies where these diseases were endemic. Because of the islanders' lack of immunity to the new diseases, they suffered high rates of infection and death from smallpox, cholera and whooping cough, as well as leprosy. Sugar planters were worried about the effects on their labor force and pressured the government to take action to control the spread of leprosy.

The legislature passed a control act requiring quarantine of people with leprosy. The government established Kalawao located on the isolated Kalaupapa peninsula on the northern side of Molokaʻi, followed by Kalaupapa as the sites of a leper colony that operated from 1866 to 1969. Because Kalaupapa had a better climate and sea access, it developed as the main community. A research hospital was developed at Kalawao. The population of these settlements reached a peak of 1100 shortly after the turn of the 20th century.

In total over the decades, more than 8500 men, women and children living throughout the Hawaiian islands and diagnosed with leprosy were exiled to the colony by the Hawaiian government and legally declared dead. This public health measure was continued after the Kingdom became a U.S. territory. Patients were not allowed to leave the settlement nor have visitors and had to live out their days here. In the 21st century, there are no persons on the island with active cases of leprosy, which has been controlled through medication, but some former patients chose to continue to live in the settlement after its official closure.[12][13]

Father Damien de Veuster, a Belgian priest of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary served as a missionary for 16 years in the communities of sufferers of leprosy. Mother Marianne Cope of the Sisters of Saint Francis of Syracuse, New York, brought six of her Sisters from to work in Hawaiʻi with leprosy sufferers in the late 19th century, also serving on Molokai. Both Father Damien and Mother Marianne have been canonized as saints by the Roman Catholic Church for their charitable work and devotion to sufferers of leprosy.


Beginning in 1897 much of the western end of the island was purchased from Hawaiians by Molokai Ranch to operate a cattle ranch. From 1923 to 1985, they leased thousands of acres of their land to pineapple producers, and the pineapple industry thrived on the island, continuing to attract Japanese and Filipino immigrants as low-paid laborers. Since the late 20th century, the pineapple industry has suffered across Hawaii.[citation needed]

Over the years the Ranch company has also acted as a developer, establishing hotels and related amenities for resort tourists on their property. In 2007 community residents organized in the "Save La'au Point" movement to oppose Molokai Ranch's attempt to expand its resort operation.[14] As a result, on March 24, 2008, Molokai Ranch, then the island's largest employer, decided to shut down all resort operations, including hotels, movie theater, restaurants, and golf course, and dismiss 120 workers.[15]

Because of its rural, agricultural nature, Molokaʻi has Hawaiʻi's highest unemployment rate. One-third of its residents use food stamps.[16] As of 2014, the largest industry on the island is seed production for Monsanto and Mycogen seeds, including GMO seeds.[16]


Sign greeting visitors to Molokaʻi at exit to Molokai Airport

Although tourism is not as large an industry on Molokaʻi as on some of the other islands in Hawaii, Molokaʻi has on average about 1,000 visitors on any given day.[17] For years, residents of Molokaʻi have resisted private developers' attempts to dramatically increase tourism. Accommodations are limited; as 2014, only one hotel was open on the island. Most tourists find lodgings at rental condos and houses.

National Geographic Traveler magazine and the National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations conduct annual Destination Scorecard surveys, aided by George Washington University. In 2007, a panel of 522 experts in sustainable tourism and destination stewardship reviewed 111 selected human-inhabited islands and archipelagos around the world. Molokaʻi ranked 10th among the 111 destination locales. The survey cited Molokaʻi's pristine, breathtaking tropical landscape; environmental stewardship; rich and deep Hawaiian traditions (the island's mana); and visitor-friendly culture. The neighbor islands of Hawaiʻi, Kauaʻi, Maui and Oʻahu, ranked 50, 61, 81 and 104, respectively.[18]

Molokaʻi is believed to be the birthplace of the hula. The annual Molokai Ka Hula Piko festival is held on this island.[19]

Molokaʻi can be reached by plane or by ferry. Planes fly into Molokaʻi daily from other Hawaiian islands including Oahu (Honolulu and Kalaeloa), Maui (Kahului) and Hawaii (Kona) on Mokulele Airlines, Makani Kai Air, Paragon Air and Hawaiian Airlines.[20][21][22] A ferry leaves twice daily between Molokai and Lahaina Harbor, Maui.[23]


Health care[edit]

The island of Molokai is served by Molokai General Hospital, which operates 24-7.


The island public school system includes 4 elementary schools, one middle school and one high school. There is also a community college.[24] The island has one private middle school.[25]


The island can be traversed by a single land highway running east to west (highways 450 and 460) up to the barrier mountains of Kalawao County and the Kalaupapa peninsula. By land this area can only be reached by mule and hiking trails. Most access is by sea.


The island contains many parks and other protected areas, including Palaau State Park, Kiowea Beach Park, Kakahaia National Wildlife Refuge, Molokai Forest Reserve, Pelekunu Preserve, George Murphy Beach Park, Halawa Beach Park, and Papohaku Beach Park (3 miles of pristine beach) in the portion within Maui County. Today Kalawao County is preserved by the Kalaupapa National Historical Park (accessible by guided mule or hiking tour).[26]),[27]

Notable people[edit]


  • Nuakea, High Chieftess of Molokaʻi
  • Hualani, High Chieftess of Molokaʻi in 9th century
  • Keoloewaakamauaua, 2nd Alii Aimoku (High Chief) of Molokaʻi
  • Kapauanuakea, 3rd Alii Aimoku (High Chief) of Molokaʻi
  • Kamauliwahine, 4th Alii Aimoku (High Chief) of Molokaʻi
  • Kanipahu, High Chief of Molokaʻi in the 11th century
  • Kamauaua, High Chief of Molokaʻi in the 11th or 13th century
  • Kaupeepeenuikauila, Prince of Molokaʻi in the 12th century
  • Kahokuohua, High Chief of Molokaʻi in the 15th century
  • Kalanipehu, High Chief of Molokaʻi in the 17th century
  • Kanealai, High Chieftess and Queen Regent of Molokaʻi in the 18th century

Towns and villages[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Molokai Shows Population Decline Over the Past Decade". 
  2. ^ "Table 5.08 - Land Area of Islands: 2000" (PDF). 2004 State of Hawaii Data Book. State of Hawaii. 2004. Retrieved 2007-07-23.  External link in |work= (help)
  3. ^ "Table 5.11 - Elevations of Major Summits" (PDF). 2004 State of Hawaii Data Book. State of Hawaii. 2004. Retrieved 2007-07-23.  External link in |work= (help)
  4. ^ Hawaiian landslides have been catastrophic, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
  5. ^ Culliney, John L. (2006) Islands in a Far Sea: The Fate of Nature in Hawaii. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. p. 17.
  6. ^ "Quantitative morphology of a fringing reef tract from high-resolution laser bathymetry: Southern Molokai, Hawaii", Bulletin - Geo Science World
  7. ^ "Resident Population of Islands 1960 to 2010" (PDF). 
  8. ^ Census Tracts 317 and 318, Maui County; and Census Tract 319, Kalawao County United States Census Bureau
  9. ^ Molokai Forest Reserve — Department of Land and Natural Resources
  10. ^ "Molokai History". 
  11. ^ "Molokai History". 
  12. ^ "Kalaupapa National Historical Park - Hansen's Disease Patients at Kalawao and Kalaupapa (U.S. National Park Service)." U.S. National Park Service - Experience Your America. Web. 19 Nov. 2009.
  13. ^ "Kalaupapa, Molokai, Hawaii - Father Damien". web site. Retrieved 2009-09-29. 
  14. ^ Template:Http:// title=
  15. ^ "Molokai Ranch: A year after closure, times are hard but spirit is alive", Maui News
  16. ^ a b "Molokai has the Most to Lose but the Least Say in the GMO Debate". 
  17. ^ "Visit Molokai". 
  18. ^ Tourtellot, Jonathan B. (November–December 2007). "Destinations Rated: Islands" (PDF). National Geographic Traveler: 108–127. 
  19. ^ Molokai Ka Hula Piko, Aloha-Hawaii website
  20. ^ "Molokai Airport". 
  21. ^ "Mokulele Airlines Schedule". 
  22. ^ "Getting to Molokai". 
  23. ^ "Molokai Ferry". 
  24. ^ "Molokai Schools". 
  25. ^ "Akaula School". 
  26. ^ "Kalaupapa National Historic Park". 
  27. ^ "Papohaku Beach Park". Go Hawaii. 
  28. ^ Gavan Daws, Holy Man: Father Damien of Molokai, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1984, pp. 89-92


External links[edit]

Coordinates: 21°08′N 157°02′W / 21.133°N 157.033°W / 21.133; -157.033