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Ten Stories From 2020: The Year That Was

December 31, 2020, 3:31 PM HST
* Updated December 31, 3:47 PM
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The coronavirus dominated the news cycle in 2020 like only a few stories ever have throughout history. Though it permeated nearly all aspects of life, the Big Island was full of other stories worth telling — the good, the bad, and the inevitable.

Here are some of Big Island Now’s top stories from the year that was:

Halema‘uma‘u Crater at Kīlauea Volcano fills with lava from new eruption.  Dec. 28, 2020. USGS photo by D. Downs.

Madame Pele Returns

After more than two years in relative slumber, Kīlauea Volcano stirred to life on Sunday, Dec. 20, when an eruption began inside Halema‘uma‘u Crater. Unlike the 2018 eruption that cost hundreds of Big Island homes, December’s activity was isolated to the crater alone, which is entirely contained inside Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. The volcano continues to erupt as of today, with the last known depth of the ever-growing lava lake measuring approximately 600 feet deep. Traditionally the Big Island’s top tourist attraction, visitors and residents have flocked to the park to witness the awakening of Madame Pele, though those who come through are strongly reminded to obey signage and closures in the interest of their own safety.

Black Lives Matter in Hawai‘i

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The year’s top cultural and political story, and the only rival of the coronavirus when it came to widespread human effect and media coverage across the country, centered around Black Lives Matter protests.

Protesters posted up outside the Kona Public Library for a rest during their march through Kailua Village on Saturday, June 13, 2020. PC: Max Dible

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The death of George Floyd in May, a black man from Minneapolis, while in police custody ignited what was first a national movement. It developed into international demonstrations in cities across the world. Marches for equality grew volatile at times, though not so in Hawai‘i. Black Lives Matter supporters came together in both West and East Hawai‘i to demonstrate, chant, and sign wave in the effort to bring awareness to issues of racial equality across the country and the world. The issue inspired activists of all ages, as a teenaged community organizer put together a march through Kailua-Kona over the summer that drew hundreds of participants.

TMT Takes Indefinite Timeout

What was almost indisputably the top Big Island story of 2019 had just about everything: conflict, drama, culture, arrests, demonstrations, historical context, economic implications, and both sides of the issue using media outlets to help litigate their cases publicly. One thing it never gave us, however, was an ending.

TMT protest, DAY 3, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. PC: Gerald Besson

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The kia‘i (protectors of the mauna) agreed to move off the Maunakea Access Road, and eventually off the mountain entirely, after then-Mayor Harry Kim reached an agreement with demonstrators that TMT would not try to move construction equipment up the mauna until the dispute over what is to be the world’s most advanced telescope was settled. The agreement went into effect in late December of 2019 and was valid through the end of February. Just as negotiators were set to head back to the table, the coronavirus struck and pushed back the timeline on TMT discussions between government officials and stakeholders. The “timeout” continues today and will do so into the new year. Whether the telescope will ever be built in Hawai‘i remains an open question, and not one likely to be answered any time soon.

PC: Pixabay

Here Comes the Story of a Hurricane

The entire state of Hawai‘i shared a sigh of relief after narrowly escaping a treacherous storm in late July. The eye of Hurricane Douglas whipped and swirled within 100 miles of the islands without making landfall or causing any overwhelming destruction.

Douglas was initially barreling toward Hawai‘i as a Category 4 hurricane and though it weakened upon its approach, the damage to any island could have proven catastrophic had the storm come through on a slightly different trajectory.

Mitch Roth. County of Hawai’i Office of the Prosecuting Attorney photo.

A New Man in Charge

Harry Kim passed the mantle of Mayor to former County Prosecuting Attorney Mitch Roth on Dec. 7, after Roth edged out community advocate and Hawaiian son Ikaika Marzo in a runoff for the Big Island’s highest office. Roth spoke of family and invoked the Golden Rule as a central ideology for his mayoral term, recounting in his inauguration speech how he dropped out of school while still a young man and moved all the way to Hawai‘i without much more than a dollar in his pocket.

The new mayor will face no shortage of challenges as the TMT issue atop Maunakea remains unresolved and the state’s economy continues to be ravaged by a global pandemic currently surging worse than ever across the mainland US — home to what is, by far, the state’s top tourism market.

Several Young Brothers cargo containers slipped off barge into Hilo Bay Monday morning, June 22, 2020. PC: Sen. Kai Kahele

Into the Drink

Young Brothers, Inc., Hawai‘i’s primary interisland shipping concern, has been in and out of the news all year. The company temporarily reduced routes to the Big Island and Maui, as well as asked for and received permission from the PUC to increase its rates by 46% to offset tens of millions of dollars in projected losses related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, what was arguably the worst news for Young Brothers came in late June when 21 cargo containers slipped off one of its barges and plunged into the waters of Hilo Bay. The “cargo overboard” posed a potential hazard for East Hawai‘i mariners across multiple days. Several of the cargo containers were never recovered.

PC: Big Island Invasive Species Committee

Pass on the Grass

The last year was wrought with depressing news, creating a public craving for positive print to which only former smokers and hikers lost in the desert minus their canteens could relate. So when the Big Island Invasive Species Committee released news that all known infestations of Pampas Grass, an invasive weed, had been eradicated islandwide, the jubilation was greater than expected. Invasive species are typically destructive and notoriously hard to eradicate once they’ve taken hold in a new environment — just ask any Big Islander who’s ever had an encounter with a fire ant. The news was considered so good, in fact, that Big Island Now’s publication of the grass’s eradication was shared under the “Good News” section of Reddit’s front page.

Of course, there were thousands of other stories that came out of the Big Island and/or the state of Hawai‘i this last year.

  1. A Hawaiian Airlines flight from Maui to Kaua‘i in February was diverted after the cabin lost pressure, the face masks dropped from overhead compartments, and a burning smell permeated the aircraft, which was carrying a total of 123 people.
  2. A Big Island celebrity was cited for DUI after he was involved in a single-vehicle crash, the news of which made national headlines.
  3. And the Hawai‘i Department of Health identified the Big Island’s first case COVID-19 on Patrick’s Day, which was followed by a deluge of directly and indirectly related news stories still cramming full the email inboxes of reporters everywhere.

The last year was full of more downs than ups, without question. But the staff at Big Island Now and Pacific Media Group have been honored to report the news, whatever its nature, to the communities across this gorgeous island. Thank you for letting us be a part of your lives every single day.

On this New Year’s Eve, remember to drive and distance safely. We’ll see you next year. Or, in other words, tomorrow.

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