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Do not burn Christmas trees at Kāneʻohe Bay sandbar, state officials say

Kaneohe Sandbar DLNR Kaneohe Bay christmas tree fire
Courtesy Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources
People at the Kāneʻohe Bay sandbar burn their Christmas trees in late December 2020.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources is warning people that they face arrest if found burning Christmas trees at the Kāneʻohe Bay sandbar on Oʻahu. The sandbar is a popular gathering place for local boaters and tourists.

A tradition of piling up Christmas trees for bonfires on the sandbar is harming the environment, officials said Tuesday.

“People haul their trees to (the site) by boat, and burning them is detrimental to the sandbar and the surrounding marine ecosystem,” said Hawaiʻi’s environmental law enforcement chief, Jason Redulla, in the statement.

kaneohe sandbar kaneohe bay
Caleb Jones/AP
In this Aug. 15, 2015, file photo, people stand on the sandbar in Kāneʻohe Bay. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones, File)

Redulla said it can sometimes be hard to find the people responsible for burning the trees.

“We receive tips about tree burnings every year and dispatch DOCARE officers to Heʻeia Kea Small Boat Harbor, the point-of-departure for boats heading to the sandbar," Redulla said. "Unfortunately, we can’t always identify the individuals involved in these illegal and disrespectful activities.”

Leialoha “Rocky” Kaluhiwa, president of the Koʻolaupoko Hawaiian Civic Club, said the site is sacred to many Native Hawaiians who call the sandbar Ahu O Laka.

“The iwi (remains) of Chief Laka of Maui were brought by his sons and buried there centuries ago," Kaluhiwa said. “Once iwi is buried in an area, it is consecrated and considered ‘kapu’, or sacred to Native Hawaiians.”

Kaluhiwa said Chief Laka is an ancestor to some Native families who live near the bay.

Burning trash in public or in backyards is illegal in Hawaiʻi.

"We strongly discourage anyone from taking their `opala (discarded items like Christmas trees) to light bonfires on Ahu o Laka,” Kaluhiwa said.

The state also released video of people burning trees at the sandbar after last Christmas.

Incidents can be reported by calling 808-643-DLNR (3567) or via the DLNRTip app.

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