(BIVN) – The COVID-19 pandemic has ended activity on Maunakea, both for the astronomical observatories operating at the summit, to the organized opposition to the planned Thirty Meter Telescope project encamped at Puʻuhuluhulu far below.
On Wednesday, the kiaʻi who were watching the Mauna Kea Access Road in order to stop the TMT released a video message announcing that they were leaving the mountain, for now.
“Due to the continuing and growing threat of the COVID-19,” said Paul Neves, Aliʻi Noeau Loa of the Royal Order of Kamehameha I, who appeared in a video distributed by supporters of the TMT opposition movement, “we concur with the camp leadership here at Maunakea. It is necessary and prudent that active participation here at Puʻuhuluhulu be temporarily suspended.”
“The Royal Order of Kamehameha I will continue to monitor all activity with regards to Maunakea,” Neves continued, “and is prepared to do what it must to support the efforts of the Lāhui to stop development on Maunakea. We do not believe that there is an immediate threat to Maunakea at this time. We do, however, believe that there is an immediate threat to the Kanaka Maoli, their supporters, and the general public because of the COVID-19 virus.”
Andre Perez also appeared in the video. “In this time of global pandemic crisis, we also recognize that human health and safety is paramount,” Perez said. “We must keep our kūpuna and ourselves safe so that we can continue to protect Mauna Kea. So we are leaving some of our gear here, fully intending to come back pack up and clean up, and we will leave this mauna in better condition than we found it.”
“We want to declare victory for this battle,” Perez added. “The struggle is not over, but we have prevailed in protecting Mauna Kea. There is no construction on the mountain.”
Meanwhile, at the summit of Maunakea, the Maunakea Observatories say they have started a temporary suspension of telescope operations following Governor David Ige’s stay-at-home order issued March 23, which is aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 in Hawaiʻi.
“The health and safety of our staff and community will always be our highest priority,” said Dr. Doug Simons, director of Canada-France-Hawaiʻi Telescope. “As one of Hawaiʻi Islands’ largest employers, we understand the necessity of doing whatever we can to stunt the spread of COVID-19. That’s why our teams are staying home.”
According to a Maunakea Observatories press release:
The employees of the Maunakea Observatories — more than 500 technicians, astronomers, instrument scientists, engineers and support staff — will stay home, focused on work that can be advanced without in-person engagement at the summit or base facilities. In compliance with Governor Ige’s order any interaction at the facilities will be limited to emergency response, and essential functions, provided that social distancing requirements are maintained. Examples of emergency response could include response to fire alarms or power outages, or critical maintenance on the observatories’ delicate instruments to prevent damage and minimize loss of future research.
Recognizing the unprecedented need to convert in-person learning to a virtual environment, the Maunakea Observatories education and outreach teams are launching new pilot initiatives three times a week, designed to provide innovative multimedia STEM learning opportunities to students and families for the duration of the stay-at-home order and beyond. Available resources will include videos, live virtual engagement, downloadable materials and more. These resources will be available at maunakeaobservatories.org, Facebook page, and the newly created Maunakea Astronomy Outreach Committee YouTube channel.
“We’re committed to supporting Hawaii with STEM distance learning, sparking students’ curiosity about the universe around us and inspiring them to push the boundaries of their imagination,” said Mary Beth Laychak, program lead for Maunakea Scholars and strategic communications director at the Canada-France-Hawaiʻi Telescope.