Thirty Meter Telescope protests

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Thirty Meter Telescope protests
Part of The Hawaiian sovereignty movement
Thirty Meter Telescope protest, October 7, 2014 C.jpg
Native Hawaiian practitioner, Lanakila Mangauil, "protector" Kahookahi Kanuha and others speaking with Mayor Billy Kenoi against the building of more telescopes on Mauna Kea on October 7, 2014
DateOctober 7, 2014
Mauna Kea Access Road near Mauna Kea Visitors Center

19°45′32.97″N 155°27′23.07″W / 19.7591583°N 155.4564083°W / 19.7591583; -155.4564083Coordinates: 19°45′32.97″N 155°27′23.07″W / 19.7591583°N 155.4564083°W / 19.7591583; -155.4564083
Caused by
  • Concern for indigenous, Native Hawaiian cultural and spiritual rights
  • Lack of community and native input
  • Concern over impact to Mauna Kea and groundwater aquifers
  • Concern for protected species and the environment
  • Concern for the religious significance of Mauna Kea, the most sacred site of the Native Hawaiian people.
GoalsEnd construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea and ban all further development of the Mauna Kea observatories. Begin decommissioning of existing telescopes.

The Thirty Meter Telescope protests are a series of protests and demonstrations that began on the Island of Hawaii in the United States over the choosing of Mauna Kea for the site location of the Thirty Meter Telescope. Mauna Kea is considered the most sacred mountain of Native Hawaiian religion and culture. Protests began locally within the state of Hawaii on October 7, 2014 but went global within weeks of the April 2, 2015 arrest of 31 people who had blockaded the roadway to keep construction crews off the summit.

The TMT, a ground-based, large segmented mirror reflecting telescope grew from astronomers' prioritization in 2000 of a thirty-meter telescope to be built within the decade. Mauna Kea was announced as TMT's preferred site in 2009. Opposition to the project began shortly after the announcement of Mauna Kea as the chosen site out of 5 proposals. While opposition against the observatories on Mauna Kea has been ongoing since the first telescope this protest may be the most vocal. The project was expected to be completed by 2024, nearly simultaneously with the 39-meter Extremely Large Telescope being built in Chile however, on December 2, 2015, the Supreme Court of Hawaii invalidated the TMT's building permits. The court ruled that due process was not followed. The TMT corporation then removed all construction equipment and vehicles from Mauna Kea, and re-applied for a new permit, meant to respect the Supreme Court's ruling. This was granted on September 28, 2018.[2][3] On October 30, 2018, the Court validated the new construction permit.[4]


Development of Mauna Kea observatories[edit]

After studying photos for NASA's Apollo program that contained greater detail than any ground based telescope, Gerard Kuiper began seeking an arid site for infrared studies.[5][6] While he first began looking in Chile, he also made the decision to perform tests in the Hawaiian Islands. Tests on Maui's Haleakalā were promising but the mountain was too low in the inversion layer and often covered by clouds. On the "Big Island" of Hawaii, Mauna Kea is considered the highest island mountains in the world, measuring roughly 33,000 feet tall from its base deep under the Pacific Ocean. While the summit is often covered with snow the air itself is extremely dry.[5] Kuiper began looking into the possibility of an observatory on Mauna Kea. After testing, he discovered the low humidity was perfect for infrared signals. He persuaded then Governor, John A. Burns to bulldoze a dirt road to the summit where he built a small telescope on Puʻu Poliʻahu, a cinder cone peak.[5][7][8] The peak was the second highest on the mountain with the highest peak being holy ground, so Kuiper avoided it.[9] Next, Kuiper tried enlisting NASA to fund a larger facility with a large telescope, housing and other needed structures. NASA, in turn decided to make the project open to competition. Professor of physics, John Jefferies of the University of Hawaii placed a bid on behalf of the university.[5][10][11] Jefferies had gained his reputation through observations at Sacramento Peak Observatory. The proposal was for a two-meter telescope to serve both the needs of NASA and the university. While large telescopes are not ordinarily awarded to universities without well established astronomers, Jefferies and UH were awarded the NASA contract infuriating Kuiper who felt that "his mountain" had been "stolen" from "him".[5][12] Kuiper would abandon his site (the very first telescope on Mauna Kea) over the competition and begin work in Arizona on a different NASA project. After considerable testing by Jefferies' team, the best locations were determined to be near the summit at the top of the cinder cones. Testing also determined Mauna Kea to be superb for nighttime viewing due to many factors including the thin air, constant trade winds and being surrounded by sea. Jefferies would build a 2.24 meter telescope with the State of Hawaii agreeing to build a reliable, all weather roadway to the summit. Building began in 1967 and first light seen in 1970.[5]

Observatory opposition[edit]

Opposition to the observatories has existed since 1964.[13] In Honolulu, the governor and legislature, enthusiastic about the development, set aside an even larger area for the observatory causing opposition in the city of Hilo. Native kānaka ʻōiwi believed the entire site was sacred and that developing the mountain, even for science, would spoil the area. Environmentalists were concerned about rare native bird populations and other citizens of Hilo were concerned about the sight of the domes from the city. Using town hall meetings, Jefferies was able to overcome opposition by weighing the economic advantage and prestige the island would receive.[5] Over the years, the opposition to the observatories may have become the most visible example of the conflict science has encountered over access and use of environmental and culturally significant sites.[14] Opposition to development grew shortly after expansion of the observatories commenced. Once access was opened up by the roadway to the summit, skiers began using it for recreation and objected when the road was closed as a precaution against vandalism when the telescopes were being built. Hunters voiced concerns as did the Hawaiian Audubon Society who were supported by Governor George Ariyoshi.[15]

The Audubon Society objected to further development on Mauna Kea over concerns to habitat of the endangered palila, an endemic species to only specific parts of this mountain. The bird is the last of the finch billed honeycreepers existing on the island. Over 50% of native bird species had been killed off due to loss of habitat from early western settlers or the introduction of non native species competing for resources. Hunters and sportsmen were concerned that the hunting of feral animals would be affected by the telescope operations.[16] A "Save Mauna Kea" movement was inspired by the proliferation of telescopes with opposition believing development of the mountain to be sacrilegious.[17] Native Hawaiian non-profit groups such as Kahea, whose goals are the protection of cultural heritage and the environment, oppose development on Mauna Kea as a sacred space to the Hawaiian religion.[18] Today, Mauna Kea hosts the world's largest location for telescope observations in infrared and submillimeter astronomy. The land itself is protected by the US Historical Preservation Act due to its significance to Hawaiian culture but still allowed development.[19]

Outrigger telescopes[edit]

Further development of the Mauna Kea observatories is still opposed by environmental groups and Native Hawaiians. A 2006 proposal for the Outrigger Telescopes to become extensions of the Keck Observatory was canceled after a judges determination that a full environmental impact statement must be prepared before any further development of the site.[20] The "outrigger" would have linked the Keck I and Keck II telescopes. Environmental groups and Native Hawaiian activist were a lot stronger at this time than in the past but NASA went ahead with the proposal for lack of an alternate site. The group Mauna Kea Anaina Hou made several arguments against the development including that Mauna Kea was a sacred mountain to Native Hawaiians where many deities had lived, and that the cinder cone being proposed as the site was holy in Hawaiian tradition as a burial site for a demi-god. The group raised several other concerns such as environmental over native insects, the question of Ceded lands and an audit report, critical of the mountain's management.[21]

Thirty Meter Telescope proposal[edit]

Kealoha Pisciotta, a former Mauna Kea Observatory employee, testifies at a State hearing in 2011

The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) is a proposed extremely large, segmented mirror telescope, planned for the summit of Mauna Kea. It is now the focal point of further development of the observatory site, with a current ongoing legal battle in the Hawaii court system. The proposal continues to spawn a great deal of controversy over the use of the site for science.[22]

The TMT project is a response to recommendation in 2000 from the US National Academy of Sciences that a thirty-meter telescope be a top priority, and that it be built within the decade.[23] Urgency in construction is due to the competitive nature of science with the European-Extremely Large Telescope also under construction.[24] The two projects are also complementary, in that the EELT would only view the Southern Celestial Hemisphere, while Mauna Kea offers the best views of the Northern Celestial Hemisphere. However, Mauna Kea's summit is considered the most sacred of all the mountains in Hawaii to many Native Hawaiian people.[25][26][27] Native Hawaiian activists such as Kealoha Pisciotta, a former employee of the Mauna Kea Observatories, have raised concerns over the perceived desecration of Mauna Kea posed by TMT construction and presence.[28] Pisciotta, a former telescope systems specialist technician at James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, is one of several people suing to stop the construction[29] and is also director of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou.[30] However, some native Hawaiians do support the TMT project, including Peter Apo, a sitting trustee of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.[31]

As of April, 2015, two separate legal appeals were still pending.[32]

The 1998 study Mauna Kea Science Reserve and Hale Pohaku Complex Development Plan Update stated that "... nearly all the interviewees and all others who participated in the consultation process (Appendices B and C) called for a moratorium on any further development on the summit of Mauna Kea".[33] Native Hawaiians and environmentalists are opposed to any further telescopes.[30]

The Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources conditionally approved the Mauna Kea site for the TMT in February 2011. While the approval has been challenged, the Board officially approved the site following a hearing on April 12, 2013.[34]

Indigenous peoples rights[edit]

The issue of native peoples, their religious freedom and rights in regards to authority for large science-based projects has become a major issue to contend with. Mt. Graham had an issue with the sanctity of the mountain raised by activists. Observatories have succeeded in being built, but only after protracted and expensive litigation and effort.

Blockade and protests[edit]

Hawaiian cultural practitioner, Joshua Lanakila Mangauil interrupted the TMT ground breaking on October 7, 2014

Roadway blockade and ground breaking interruption[edit]

On October 7, 2014 the groundbreaking for the telescope was being live streamed via webcam. The proceedings were interrupted when the official caravan encountered several dozen demonstrators picketing and chanting in the middle of the roadway. A planned ceremony at the base of the mountain was scheduled by the group, Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, in opposition of the telescope[35] and in a press release dated that day, the organization Sacred Mauna Kea stated: "Native Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians will gather for a peaceful protest against the Astronomy industry and the State of Hawaii’s ground-breaking ceremony for a thirty-meter telescope (TMT) on the summit of Mauna Kea."[36] Several members traveled up the mountain and were stopped by police, where they laid down in the road and blocked the caravan. The nonviolent protest did not stop or block any people but when the ceremony for the ground breaking began, protesters interrupted the blessing, stopping the proceedings as well as the groundbreaking.[35]

That same day in California, protesters demonstrated outside the headquarters of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in Palo Alto, CA.[37][38]

Second Mauna Kea blockade and arrests, 2015[edit]

Beginning in late March 2015 demonstrators halted construction crews near the visitors center, again by blocking access of the road to the summit of the mountain. Heavy equipment had already been placed near the site. Daniel Meisenzahl, a spokesman for the University of Hawaii, stated that the 5 tractors trailers of equipment that were moved up the mountain the day before had alerted protesters that began organizing the demonstrations. Kamahana Kealoha of the group Sacred Mauna Kea stated that over 100 demonstrators had traveled up to the summit to camp overnight, to be joined by more protesters in the early morning to blockade crews.[39] On April 2, 2015, 300 protesters were gathered near the visitor's center where 12 people were arrested. 11 more protesters were arrested at the summit.[40] Protesters, ranging in age from 27 to 75 years of age were handcuffed and led away by local police.[41] Among the major concerns of the protest groups is whether the land appraisals were done accurately and that Native Hawaiians were not consulted. When the trucks were finally allowed to pass, protesters followed the procession up the summit. A project spokesman said that work had begun after arrests were made and the road cleared.

Among the arrests was professional surfer and former candidate for mayor of Kauai, Dustin Barca. A number of celebrity activists of Native Hawaiian descent, both local and national, began campaigning over social media, including Game of Thrones star Jason Momoa who urged Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) to join the protests with him on top of Mauna Kea.[42] Construction was halted for one week at the request of Hawaii state governor David Ige on April 7, 2015 after the protest on Mauna Kea continued and demonstrations began to appear over the state. Project Manager, Gary Sanders stated that TMT agreed to the one-week stop for continued dialogue. Kealoha Pisciotta, president of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou viewed the development as positive but said opposition to the project would continue.[43] Pisciotta also stated that the protests would continue to be within a Kapu Aloha; "moving in Aloha with steadfast determination".[44]

Temporary halt[edit]

Governor Ige announced that the project was being temporarily postponed until at least April 20, 2015.[45] In response to the growing protests the TMT Corporation's division of Hawaii Community Affairs launched an internet microsite, updating content regularly.[46] The company also took to social media to respond to the opposition's growing momentum by hiring public relations firms to assist as the company's voice in the islands.[47] TMT sublease payments on hold following order for a contested case hearing.[48]

Demonstrators call themselves protectors, not protestors

Continued local demonstrations[edit]

The protests sparked statewide, national as well as international attention to Hawaiian culture, Mauna Kea and the 45-year history of 13 other telescopes on the mountain.

At the University of Hawaii Manoa, hundreds of students lined the streets for blocks and, one by one, they passed the stones from the student taro patch of the university's Center on Hawaiian Studies down the human chain to the lawn in front of the office university president, David Lassner, where the stones were used to build an ahu (the altar of a heiau) as a message to the university.[49]

On April 21, 2015, hundreds of protesters filled the streets of Honolulu protesting against the TMT.[50]

Permit invalidated[edit]

On December 2, 2015, the Supreme Court of Hawaii invalidated the TMT's building permits, ruling that due process was not followed when the Board of Land and Natural Resources approved the permit before the contested case hearing. The TMT company chairman stated: "T.M.T. will follow the process set forth by the state..".[51][52] On December 16, the TMT corporation began removal of all construction equipment and vehicles from Mauna Kea.[53]

Permit approved[edit]

On September 28, 2017, the Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources approved the TMT's Conservation District Use Permit.[54] On October 30, 2018, the Supreme Court of Hawaii validated the construction permit.[4]

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ "Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources Approves Conservation District Use Permit to Build TMT on Maunakea". Sep 29, 2017. Retrieved Nov 1, 2018.
  3. ^ "Hawai'i BLNR Approves TMT Permit". Big Island Now. September 28, 2017. Retrieved November 1, 2018.
  4. ^ a b Hawaii top court approves controversial Thirty Meter Telescope BBC News, 2018-10-31.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g J. B. Zirker (18 October 2005). An Acre of Glass: A History and Forecast of the Telescope. JHU Press. pp. 89–95. ISBN 978-0-8018-8234-0.
  6. ^ Educational Foundation for Nuclear Science, Inc. (November 1964). Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Educational Foundation for Nuclear Science, Inc. p. 35. ISSN 0096-3402.
  7. ^ David Yount (1 January 1996). Who Runs the University?: The Politics of Higher Education in Hawaii, 1985-1992. University of Hawaii Press. p. 232. ISBN 978-0-8248-1821-0.
  8. ^ Astronomy Now. Intra Press. 1991. p. 45.
  9. ^ Barry R. PARKER (11 November 2013). Stairway to the Stars: The Story of the World’s Largest Observatory. Springer. p. 25. ISBN 978-1-4899-6052-8.
  10. ^ David Leverington (6 December 2012). A History of Astronomy: from 1890 to the Present. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 276. ISBN 978-1-4471-2124-4.
  11. ^ Robert M. Kamins; Robert E. Potter; University of Hawaii (System) (January 1998). Måalamalama: A History of the University of Hawai'i. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 210–211. ISBN 978-0-8248-2006-0.
  12. ^ Joseph N. Tatarewicz (1990). Space Technology & Planetary Astronomy. Indiana University Press. p. 82. ISBN 0-253-35655-5.
  13. ^ Knapp, Alex (Jun 12, 2015). "Understanding The Thirty Meter Telescope Controversy". Forbes. Forbes. Retrieved 5 August 2015.
  14. ^ Michael Dear; Jim Ketchum; Sarah Luria; Doug Richardson (13 April 2011). GeoHumanities: Art, History, Text at the Edge of Place. Routledge. p. 476. ISBN 978-1-136-88347-7.
  15. ^ Barry R. PARKER (11 November 2013). Stairway to the Stars: The Story of the World’s Largest Observatory. Springer. p. 56. ISBN 978-1-4899-6052-8.
  16. ^ Mark Gordon (18 July 2007). Recollections of "Tucson Operations": The Millimeter-Wave Observatory of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. Springer Science & Business Media. pp. 136–140. ISBN 978-1-4020-3236-3.
  17. ^ Robert F. Oaks (1 November 2003). Hawaii:: A History of the Big Island. Arcadia Publishing. p. 131. ISBN 978-1-4396-1403-7.
  18. ^ Ned Kaufman (11 September 2009). Place, Race, and Story: Essays on the Past and Future of Historic Preservation. Routledge. p. 14. ISBN 978-1-135-88972-2.
  19. ^ Judith Schachter (15 September 2013). The Legacies of a Hawaiian Generation: From Territorial Subject to American Citizen. Berghahn Books. p. 43. ISBN 978-1-78238-012-2.
  20. ^ Jeff Campbell (15 September 2010). Hawaii. Lonely Planet. p. 97. ISBN 978-1-74220-344-7.
  21. ^ Patrick Kenji Takahashi (29 February 2008). Simple Solutions for Humanity. AuthorHouse. p. 164. ISBN 978-1-4678-3517-6.
  22. ^ Kate Fullagar (15 March 2012). The Atlantic World in the Antipodes: Effects and Transformations since the Eighteenth Century. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. pp. 70–71. ISBN 978-1-4438-3806-1.
  23. ^ A.P. Lobanov; J.A. Zensus; C. Cesarsky; Ph. Diamond (15 February 2007). Exploring the Cosmic Frontier: Astrophysical Instruments for the 21st Century. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 24. ISBN 978-3-540-39756-4.
  24. ^ Hubbard, Amy (October 7, 2014). "Monster telescope breaks ground, will offer deepest views of universe". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 21 April 2015.
  25. ^ Sabine Hendreschke. Menehune Mana The Spiritual Essence of Hawaii. Sabine Hendreschke. p. 43. GGKEY:PDSF05H9RAT.
  26. ^ Martin Gray; Graham Hancock (2007). Sacred Earth: Places of Peace and Power. Sterling Pub.Company. p. 254. ISBN 978-1-4027-4737-3.
  27. ^ Luci Yamamoto; Alan Tarbell (2005). Hawai'i: The Big Island. Lonely Planet. p. 137. ISBN 978-1-74059-691-6.
  28. ^ Winona LaDuke (2005). Recovering the Sacred: The Power of Naming and Claiming. South End Press. pp. 30–31. ISBN 978-0-89608-712-5.
  29. ^ Worth, Katie (February 20, 2015). "World's Largest Telescope Faces Opposition from Native Hawaiian Protesters". Scientific American, a Division of Nature America, Inc. Scientific American. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
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  33. ^ "overview of info". Mauna Kea Science Reserve and Hale Pohaku Complex Development Plan Update:. Retrieved April 20, 2015.
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  39. ^ Davis, Chelsea (March 26, 2015). "Thirty Meter Telescope protesters continue to block construction on Mauna Kea". WorldNow and KHNL. KHNL. Retrieved 4 April 2015.
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  42. ^ Scheuring, Ian (April 6, 2015). "Local celebrities take to social media in Mauna Kea protests". Hawaii News Now. WorldNow and KHNL. Retrieved 9 April 2015.
  43. ^ "Amid controversy, construction of telescope in Hawaii halted - US News". Retrieved April 7, 2015.
  44. ^ Wang, Frances Kai-Hwa (April 6, 2015). "Native Hawaiians Arrested in Protests of Massive Telescope". NBC News. NBC News. Retrieved 10 October 2015.
  45. ^ Yoro, Sarah (April 11, 2015). "Thirty Meter Telescope construction delayed". LIN Television Corporation, a Media General company. KHON2. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  46. ^ "Hawaii's Thirty Meter Telescope launches informational microsite online". American City Business Journals. Pacific Business News. April 14, 2015. Retrieved 17 April 2015.
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  48. ^
  49. ^ Garcia, Nester (April 10, 2015). "Hundreds form chain at UH Manoa to protest Thirty Meter Telescope". LIN Television Corporation, a Media General company. KHON2. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
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  51. ^ Overbye, Dennis (December 3, 2015). "Contested case hearing". The New York Times. The New York Times. Retrieved 18 December 2015.
  52. ^
  53. ^ Epping, Jamilia (December 16, 2015). "TMT Equipment Removal Underway". Big Island Now. Big Island Now. Retrieved 20 December 2015.
  54. ^ 09/28/17 – Board of Land and Natural Resources Approves TMT Permit

External links[edit]