News

2020 Vision

Sister Sites

Coping with Change

Happy New Year!

Come Fly with Us!

Open Every Day

One of the “20 Best”

Niihau Interns Work Hard to Restore the Stream and Quarry

2020 Vision

January 12, 2020

Welcome to Tess Sprawson, our new Projects Coordinator.

We expect more than 60,000 people to visit MCR this coming year (open every day 10-4). From large new wetlands, to improved visitor amenities, to an expanded nursery, to new signs and trails, much has to be done! Your volunteer help is needed, but if you can’t join us on Kaua`i — or even if you can – please make a donation to help raise funds for our new maintenance building by clicking here.

Sister Sites

Dr. Burney collects a sediment core on Rodrigues Island, while a living fossil, a giant Aldabra tortoise, supervises.

MCR is unique…or is it? All through the years, we have taken inspiration from others around the world who are trying to make that rare but potent combination of fossils, cultural history, and habitat restoration in a spectacular natural setting. In Back to the Future in the Caves of Kaua`i (Yale Press, 2010), I talk about some remarkable “rewilding” efforts, from Ted Turner’s Ladder Ranch in New Mexico, to projects on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius.

Since that time we have derived inspiration from reciprocal visits and exchange of information with similar projects in Japan, the Netherlands, Madagascar and elsewhere.

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By David Burney

Coping with Change

Much of Makauwahi Cave Reserve is vulnerable to sea level rise, flooding, drought, and storms. In the next two years we hope to establish native plants and wetland habitats at higher elevations and more sheltered locations in the old limestone quarry adjacent to the Reserve.

As Australia burns and Venice drowns, thoughts of people around the world turn to surviving change. We are no different here at Makauwahi Cave Reserve, and major coping is underway. In past newsletters, you may have read about the floods, droughts, hurricanes, tsunami, and other disasters that have struck here over the centuries.

Current threats to the Reserve, which is mostly low-lying and perpetually exposed to the ocean, include record droughts (one lasting over four years recently) and rising sea level. No use to deny it, MCR is under threat from climatic uncertainty.

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Happy New Year!

December 29, 2018

Scouts put up sign

MCR started off 2018 with major progress on the Reserve signage and picnic area, thanks to Scout Troop 270. Another Scout project is planned for 2019.

Hau`oli Makahiki Hou! As another year slides away, it’s good to ponder time, that most imponderable concept. In his 2010 book, Back to the Future in the Caves of Kaua`i, Dr. Burney talks about “time vertigo,” the experience of seeing the clear evidence of many time-scales simultaneously inside Makauwahi Cave. It’s all there: the cave’s rocks, nearly a half million years old; the cave itself, perhaps 100,000 or more; the sediments underfoot, thousands of years old; Hawaiian cultural evidence, many centuries; a tsunami deposit perhaps 1586 A.D.; 19th and 20th century impacts from overgrazing and cane farming near the surface; and the advent of research on the site in 1992. Read More…

Come Fly with Us!

Come Fly with Us Photomosaic

Lida Pigott Burney flies drone to monitor quarry restoration. Left, top, view above recent “Scout area” restoration near picnic area. Right, top, looking down on central part of Reserve, with sinkhole lower left and seashore lower right. Bottom, oblique view across restorations, with Mt. Haupu in background.

Our new quarry and streamside restorations are doing even better than we expected. With support from Grove Farm, EPA, and visitors’ donations, we have been able to plant in 2018 a total of 1,492 native trees, shrubs, and perennial groundcovers. Our staff and interns did this with the help of 585 K-12 school children and 131 college students.

We monitor all our native plant translocations by maintaining a database with up-to-date and historical information on each of the thousands of plants translocated here since 1999. Read More…

Open Every Day

Tour Guide in uniform

Tour guide Jerry Keesee sports the guides’ new “uniform.” Tours are free but we need your donations to keep operating – and growing!

Makauwahi Cave is open for tours every day of the year now, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., and on Saturdays and Sundays 10 – 4. This is possible through the efforts of our new tour guides, Linda Kosen, Deborah Flynn, and Jerry Keesee, and to Keakalina Lindsay’s coordination of tours. Congratulations, Keakalina, on the birth of daughter Aeryana!

One of the “20 Best”

We’re one of the “20 Best Caves in the US!” Makauwahi Cave Reserve was listed #14 in a recent travel site’s assessment of caves open to the public around the country. There we are, right between Luray Caverns, Virginia, a National Natural Landmark, and Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the longest cave in the world. These two famous underground places made a great impression on me when I visited them as a youngster.

Drone photo of Makauwahi Cave

Drone’s-eye view of Makauwahi Cave (photo by Toby Ralph)


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By David Burney

Niihau Interns Work Hard to Restore the Stream and Quarry

December 25, 2017

Makauwahi Cave Reserve began a program back in 2009, with federal “stimulus” funds, to provide job-training opportunities in conservation, landscaping, and horticulture to unemployed Native Hawaiians. We wanted particularly to focus on helping the Niihau families who have migrated to Kauai from our neighbor island in recent years seeking employment.

Niihau Interns

The Niihau Interns
(left to right)
standing: Henry Nakaahiki Jr., Keaka Kanahele
kneeling: Bernard Koyeg, Joe Kanahele (supervisor), Julie Kanahele

Those federal funds dried up soon after, but thanks to grants from the Wildlife Society, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the Hawaii Community Foundation, Hawaii Tourism Authority, and others, we are proud that the Makauwahi Conservation Jobs Program lives on! At last count, 46 interns have participated in this program.

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People Counts Continue to Grow

In recent years we have been guessing, mostly by indirect methods, that the Reserve gets around 30,000 visitors per year. Thanks to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, we were able to install early this year a couple of those infrared-beam people counters like the kind you cross when you enter a big department store. In waterproof cases at strategic locations, they have been counting people for us!

Hawaiian Stilt

Over 40,000 people per year are likely to view the new wayside exhibit funded by the Hawaii Tourism Authority. It features endangered water birds that frequent the wetland restorations, including the rare and beautiful Hawaiian Stilt, as in this photograph contributed by Hob Osterlund.

And, as you might have guessed, it turns out we have been underestimating. Even without the numbers yet in for December, we can say with reasonable certainty that more than 40,000 people visited this year. We know from the registration book in the cave that 15,000 or more got guided tours, and additionally hundreds of local school children participated in our education programs. We also know that about 20% of our total visitation is local, the rest being from the elsewhere in the state, the nation, and the world, including increasing numbers from Asia, Australia, and Europe.

Read More…

Remembering Richard

Our Tour Manager, Richard Segan, Richard Segan passed away October 15 at Wilcox Hospital in Lihue. Richard began giving tours on Sundays at the cave in 2012. To that point we had only been able to muster enough volunteer help to open one day per week, but through his energetic efforts, we were able to eventually keep the cave open four days per week, and now five. Since he began informing and entertaining the public with his many wonderful stories, Richard probably gave tours for more than 75,000 visitors. At Makauwahi Cave, Richard will be a permanent part of the legends of this place.