Hawaii’s Beaches Are Disappearing | ProPublica

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of energy. Signal up to get our biggest tales as quickly as they are printed.

This report was manufactured in partnership with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, which is a member of the ProPublica Neighborhood Reporting Network.

Hawaii’s beaches are owned by the general public, and the authorities is necessary to maintain them. So several years back, officials adopted a “no tolerance” coverage toward new seawalls, which experts say are the primary bring about of coastal erosion.

But about the previous two many years, oceanfront assets owners throughout the condition have made use of an array of loopholes in point out and county laws to get all-around that plan, armoring their personal attributes at the cost of the natural environment and general public shoreline accessibility.

Authorities officials have granted much more than 230 environmental exemptions to house owners of homes, motels and condos, according to documents compiled by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and ProPublica. Those people exemptions have authorized residence proprietors to continue to keep outdated seawalls in spot, construct new kinds and put in mounds of crisis sandbags together the seashores.

Discover the last 20 a long time of shoreline exemptions in Hawaii →

Officials protect their steps, indicating that forcing property proprietors to comply with anti-armoring laws would lead to them also substantially hardship, particularly together coastlines that currently have plenty of seawalls.

Around time, however, waves hitting the barriers pull the sand absent from the shore and have it out to sea. As a consequence, the governing administration approvals have fueled beach front decline and perpetuated the redevelopment of personal qualities alongside treasured and environmentally delicate coastlines — all at a time when scientists have been warning of the dire require to push improvement inland.

About the Data

The facts was compiled from public information requests submitted with Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Sources and the City and County of Honolulu’s Office of Arranging and Permitting. The data involve condition approvals for seawall easements and emergency sandbags, as nicely as county approvals for new or illegally made seawalls. The files protect approvals issued concerning 2000 and 2020.

Data on seawall easements were being compiled from person paper documents archived at the DLNR, as effectively as yearly federal government studies submitted with the Hawaii Legislature. The data for emergency permits was derived from paper documents at the DLNR. The Metropolis and County of Honolulu, as nicely as the counties of Maui and Kauai, furnished files for shoreline setback variances asked for by non-public assets owners searching for approvals for shoreline hardening buildings.

A handful of homes with a identified exemption in the previous two decades could not be linked up to an address from resource documents and were not marked on the map.


Archival photographs from Town and County of Honolulu, 2020, historical Lanikai shorelines from The Coastal Geology Team at the University of Hawai‘i, setting up footprints, lidar and avenue data from the Hawaii Place of work of Setting up.

Drone imagery by Darryl Oumi for Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Ash Ngu is a journalist, designer and developer with ProPublica’s information applications crew.

Sophie Cocke is a reporter with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. She has lined government and politics in Hawaii for the past ten years. Remember to get in touch at [email protected] if you have information you want to share about seawalls or other shoreline hardening buildings.