More telescopes or less? Results mixed for Big Island Now’s most recent poll

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During the next five years, the Maunakea Stewardship and Oversight Authority will tackle some tough issues as it develops a new master plan for management of about 11,000 acres atop the nearly 14,000-foot mountain on the Big Island.

Maunakea is pictured in this file photo courtesy of the University of Hawai‘i.

The new state agency’s board is tasked with creating a plan that balances culture and environment with astronomy and economic benefits. Part of the board’s work will be to determine what the footprint of astronomy should look like on the mauna.

It will likely be a touchy subject when the board gets to it. A 2019 clash between culture and science over the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea, which some Native Hawaiians consider to be sacred, focused a bright worldwide light on the divide, which was a main driver behind the state’s action to establish the new oversight authority.

Big Island Now asked last week in its most recent poll “What should be included in a new Maunakea management plan?” Because it is part of the discussion, some of the options readers were able to vote for were related to astronomy activities on the mountain. Several others would be benefits for multiple sectors and stakeholders, such as improvements to the summit road and more education opportunities.


While the No. 1 pick among poll voters was more astronomy facilities/telescopes, garnering 205 votes, or 33 percent, that doesn’t paint quite a full picture. As one reader commented in an email, being able to select more than one option for the complicated subject would have been better.

Taking a closer look, combining just the votes for decommissioning and removing more observatories (91), which came in at No. 2; stiffer regulations to protect the environment and natural resources (72) at No. 3; additional native species/habitat restoration (52), the No. 5 choice; and additional space and consideration for cultural practices (42) at No. 6, the total adds up to 257, or about 42 percent of the total vote.

“No new telescopes or structures. Decommission and remove all existing telescopes and structures,” commented user MamaKeiki Stacy Weigle, adding several hashtags including #NoNewLease ever, #NoNegotiating, #NoCompromises and #MaunaKeaRestored. “Return ALL the mauna to kanaka to restore, preserve and protect.”


Here are the full poll results:

  • More astronomy facilities/telescopes: 205 (33%).
  • Decommissioning and removing more observatories: 91 (14%).
  • Stiffer regulations to protect the environment and natural resources: 72 (11%).
  • More educational opportunities: 54 (8%).
  • Additional native species/habitat restoration: 52 (8%).
  • Additional space and consideration for cultural practices: 42 (6%).
  • More conservation efforts: 38 (6%).
  • Improvements to the summit road: 29 (4%).
  • More infrastructure development: 18 (2%).
  • Additional tourist opportunities: 17 (2%).

Total votes: 618.

“[Maunakea] belongs to EVERYONE,” commented user Don Baker. “Let’s keep it that way.”


According to the University of Hawai‘i Institute for Astronomy, the summit of Maunakea hosts the world’s largest astronomical observatory, with telescopes operated by astronomers from 11 countries. The combined light-gathering power of those telescopes is 15 times greater than the Palomar telescope in California, which was for many years the world’s largest, and 60 times greater than the Hubble Space Telescope.

The mauna is not only revered as one of the best places for astronomy in the world, the astronomy sector has a large economic impact on the Big Island and state.

The University of Hawai‘i Economic Research Organization reports that astronomy activities generated $68 million in labor income in Hawai‘i, $10 million in state taxes and 1,313 jobs statewide in 2019, the most recent year for which it has data available. Accounting for indirect and induced benefits and adjusting for inter-county feedback efforts, the astronomy sector had a total impact of $220.95 million on the output of goods and services in Hawai‘i that year.

“Astronomy continues to be a sizable and stabilizing source of economic activity,” the economic research organization said.

Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel is a full-time reporter with Pacific Media Group. He has more than 25 years of experience in journalism as a reporter, copy editor and page designer. He previously worked at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo. Nathan can be reached at [email protected]
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