Big Island Polls

Poll results: Should the Thirty Meter Telescope be built on Maunakea?

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Of the 22 Big Island Now polls, the most recent one about whether the Thirty Meter Telescope should be built on Maunakea drew the most responses by far, with 3,575 votes.

“No means no,” said Big Island Now reader Tammie Evangelista in an email. “How many times people have to answer this question?”

Many of those who commented agreed with Evangelista.

A rendering of the Thirty Meter Telescope. (Image from Wikipedia)

“There should be no more buildings built on Maunakea, much less one that is 18 stories tall!” said Renee Robinson. Chens Haa said of course not. Others used the Hawaiian word for no: “ʻAʻole, ʻaʻole, ʻaʻole,” commented Billy Lum.

But the majority thought the embattled observatory project should still be built atop Hawai‘i’s tallest volcanic mountain, with 2001 (55%) voting yes. Another 144 voted yes, but with caveats. That’s a total of 2,145 votes in favor of the telescope’s construction on the Big Island, or 60%.

Votes against the construction of the telescope on the Big Island totaled 1,357, or 37%.


The observatory, which would feature one of the world’s largest land-based telescopes, has languished for years, facing not only legal challenges but also opponents who maintain it will desecrate Maunakea, which is sacred to many Native Hawaiians.

The Hawai‘i Board of Land and Natural Resources approved the Thirty Meter Telescope project, but the Hawai‘i Supreme Court invalidated the telescope’s building permits in December 2015, ruling that the state Land Board had not followed due process. In October 2018, the high court approved construction to resume, but continued protests stymied progress.

Demonstrators, who call themselves kia‘i, or protectors, for several months in 2019 blocked access to the mountain’s summit and stopped construction from moving forward. The demonstrators only moved off from blocking Maunakea Access Road in December of that year after agreeing to terms set forth in a truce worked out with then-Hawai‘i County Mayor Harry Kim.

Before that, other attempts to build the Thirty Meter Telescope were blocked beginning in 2014.

The seemingly great divide between culture and science was also highlighted in comments on last week’s poll.


“An 18-story high monstrosity at the summit of sacred Maunakea would be the ultimate insult to the Hawaiian people,” commented one reader. Buck Childress said building the telescope on Maunakea would be a “disrespect to the ʻāina!”

“The source of our water, the source of our spirituality — sacred yesterday, today, tomorrow, always!” said part of Sharron Kia‘i Gonzalez’s comment on Facebook.

Demonstrators who call themselves kia‘i, or protectors, protest July 17, 2019, against the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope. (File photo by Gerald Besson)

Gonzalez also said the protectors are not against science, just those who put it before protecting the environment.

“Chile started construction on a bigger telescope already making TMT obsolete,” Gonzalez commented. “I have a problem with any entity that does not follow the conservation criteria already in place to protect the environment. … The sacredness of Mauna a Wakea deserves the respect and care of any church, temple or place of worship. Enforce the laws that are in place already to protect what should be protected.”

She added, to be clear, the kia’i are not protesters: “We are protectors of the environment and all sacred places.”


“There are people willing to die to protect Maunakea from TMT,” said another reader. “But I don’t know of anyone willing to die to support TMT. For me, that says it all.”

Maunakea is not just another mountain, one reader commented, it is special.

“At age 78, I can feel it as I’m sure many Native Hawaiians can, too,” the reader said. “Building the TMT will not cure cancer, eliminate the decades long waiting list for government promised Hawaiian home lands housing or make Hawai‘i energy independent. As another commenter said, ‘it will just be another feather in the cap of some academic.'”

The Thirty Meter Telescope has identified a second preferred building site on the island of La Palma, one of the Canary Islands off the coast of Spain, as a “Plan B.” Some suggested other locations for the project.

“This mauna is not the only place for a TMT,” said P. Ka‘ala Kalele Roberson. “Lights from Earth being an issue for seeing deep into outer space. Astronomers answer is the highest mauna. Well, how about in the middle of a remote desert [with] no lights or Antarctica/South Pole highest mauna as options.”

Others seem to have become jaded by the debate.

“Why bother asking?” questioned Mark Sidmore on Facebook. “They’ll do what they want to do anyway.”

Puna Vbc added that people are going to grumble no matter what.

“Reconciling scientific value and Hawaiian heritage can’t be done in a vacuum,” said one reader. “Unfortunately, this project comes burdened with [150-plus] years of pretty egregious baggage and a legacy of mismanagement and bad faith. Those who would discount that legacy don’t understand the depth of Native Hawaiian resentment.”

Here are the full results of last week’s poll:

  • Yes: 2,001 (55%).
  • No: 1,357 (37%).
  • Yes, but with caveats: 144 (4%).
  • I have no opinion: 37 (1%).
  • I’m still deciding: 36 (1%).

Total votes: 3,575.

The fight about whether the Thirty Meter Telescope should be built on Maunakea seems far from finished.

In the latest development, the Maunakea Hui — which stands in opposition to construction of the more than $2 billion TMT International Observatory that would house one of the world’s largest land-based telescopes — is challenging an extension granted by the state Land Board for the telescope’s conservation district use permit.

The board was supposed to hear oral arguments in that challenge July 28, but instead deferred the matter. No new date has been set.

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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