Video by David Corrigan, Voice of Sherry Bracken
MAUNA KEA, Hawaii – Just before sunset on Thursday, photographer Andrew Hara traveled up to the mid-level elevations of Mauna Kea. Preparing for night fall at 9,000 feet, Hara would soon set out to capture the night sky on the mountain, which is considered one of the best places on earth to stargaze.
Hara is a respected professional.. He has worked with NASA, National Geographic, and Time Magazine. His image gathering has been an inspiration – for himself, and to countless others. But this could be Hara’s last chance to photograph the stars from this vantage point in many months.
On Friday, the state Board of Land and Natural Resources may decide to limit the public’s ability to visit the mountain at night. Under proposed new rules, no person shall enter or remain in the restricted area during the hours of 8:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m., unless its to drive through in a motor vehicle on the Mauna Kea Observatory Access Road. Also, no person shall at any time bring in to the restricted area a backpack, tents, blankets or other obvious camping paraphernalia.
The rules were created with the intention of dispersing the encampment of the self proclaimed protectors of the mountain. They have been keeping a vigil here at Hale Pohaku for over 100 days, blocking construction crews working for the planned Thirty Meter Telescope and preventing them from reaching the summit area of the mountain. Up above at 13,000 feet, the University of Hawaii’s astronomy precinct is already host to 13 world class observatories.
These protectors have had enough of the development on the summit, which they hold sacred. And the state has had enough of their blockade. Hawaii’s top officials are in full support of the $1.4 billion TMT project, and their attempts to clear a path for crews to make it to the construction site have been met with civil disobedience on a number of occasions. The arrest tally stands at 43 individuals.
The new rules will apply to everyone, and will effectively put an end to photographing the starlit skies while on the mountain. Anyone seen carrying backbacks or any camping related materials while on the mountain, will be subject to fines. The land board will vote on Friday, and if passed the law will be in effect for 120 days. That means it could be Andrew Hara’s last night on Mauna Kea for months.
Hara recently joined a Facebook group called the Mauna Kea Photo Guild, created with the intent to support open access to Mauna Kea.
Photographer Bridger Jensen organized the group, which stays out of the politics. They take no position on TMT or TMT opponents.
Hara also wrote an op-ed that he shared with media. We are sharing it here:
“I am speaking today as a professional photographer and as someone born and raised on this island. I make my living as a photographer and in that capacity I have officially photographed several Maunakea observatories, shook hands with some of the finest people involved in scientific research, from telescope technicians to NASA’s Chief Administrator. I have worked more nights than anyone I know photographing our night sky from the summit. In consideration to our aina, I have also worked to develop international interest by connecting with National Geographic, The Nature Conservancy, and several other key organizations to help protect our native forests through environmental conservation. I firmly believe that photography is a powerful educational tool to creatively inform and inspire.
I am very proud that we are known throughout the world as the best place on Earth to study the universe. My concerns regarding access are not only personal, but socioeconomic. Aside from my own portfolio aspirations to have continued access to the summit in the evening, the ramifications of preventing star gazers and astro enthusiasts from visiting Maunakea will be significant. As a friend with the Big Island Visitor and Convention Bureau shared with me Hawaii Island’s “nightlife” is far from Waikiki, it is the appreciation of supreme nature, from active volcanoes to unprecedented views of the Milky Way.
The world is looking toward our island as a portal to merge our cultural integrity with the most progressive of sciences. I am afraid that our term “Aloha Spirit” in our islands have been dwindling on authenticity and merely have become a passive aggressive gesture to “politely” drive agenda. I have kept quiet, but the manifestation of hatred coming from anti-TMT rallies have not only inspired more hatred, but have evolved a loving community into defensive positions which have created an environment where no one can come to possibility of agreement.
And while there are difficult times at hand, shutting the entire mountain down after sunset is not the right answer. It is showing inability to find resolution to sensitive matters. I highly respect my neighbor Hawaiian brothers and sisters, as I do my government for being able to manage complicated issues, however there must be compromise on both ends using ho’oponopono to inspire us to move forward.
I challenge our government to take the higher road for current and all future endeavors, to find respectful solutions for our cultural practitioners, scientists, and the majority of indirect public bystanders being dealt collateral damage. If the DLNR wants support, then they have to support us. If we indeed practice “Aloha Spirit”, I demand that our government inspect those notions of what it means to live Hawaii to help all of us protect and empower our land together.” – Andrew Hara on July 8, 2015
To see Hara’s portfolio of work, visit his website at andrewhara.com.