State officials are seeking help identifying those responsible for setting illegal, Christmas tree bonfires at Kaneohe Bay sandbar over the weekend.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources said burning Christmas trees after the holidays at the sandbar, also known as Ahu O Laka, as shown in social media posts on Saturday, is illegal, even though it has been going on for years. The sandbar is a wildlife sanctuary, where starting or maintaining a fire is prohibited, as is the use of portable stoves or cooking devices. DLNR said ground and open fires are not permitted on any Hawaii beaches.
Additionally, officials said photos on social media show large numbers of people standing “shoulder-to-shoulder without masks, as tree-fueled fires burn in the background.”
These people were clearly violating COVID-19 mandates which restrict gatherings on Oahu to five people or less under current criteria. Others on social media who saw the posts also expressed outrage at the incidents.
DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement officers set out after getting a tip on Saturday, according to Chief Jason Redulla. Honolulu police were also on the scene as boats departed the sandbar.
“Unfortunately, we could not identify any of the individuals involved in these illegal and disrespectful activities.,” said Redulla in a news release.
The practice of hauling trees to the sandbar by boat, and burning them is actually detrimental to Ahu O Laka and the surrounding marine environment, according to Redulla.
The case is a reminder that DOCARE relies on the quick reporting of natural and cultural resources violations by the public.
“Clearly, our officers cannot be everywhere, all the time, and the faster we receive reports about illegal activities, the better chance we have of responding in time to educate violators, and when necessary to cite them,” said Redulla in the release. “All we ask is for everyone to respect the aina.”
Anyone who has more information, or who witnesses such violations, should report it to 643-DLNR (3567) or via the free DLNRTip app.