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Will Lava Tourism Save Hawaii’s Big Island?

Volcano and lava tourism is nothing new. Tourists have been traveling to active volcanoes for literally hundreds of years to see molten lava as up close and personal as possible. Perhaps the fascination lies in seeing the “insides” of our Earth home with our own eyes. The very core of our planet has made its way to the surface and is bubbling, steaming, and sometimes spewing molten rock in all its glory.

Captivating a corner of the news every day around the globe since May 3 of this year, the activity of Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii has had people glued to their electronic devices, while others have made the journey to see the volcanic activity for themselves.

But let’s face it, this is dangerous stuff, this thing called lava. When it breaks through the Earth’s crust, its temperature is anywhere between 1,300 to 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit. Rocks have been turned into melted glowing orange, red, and sometimes even white ooze. And the rocks on the surface when caught in an explosion of lava become searing airborne missiles.

Case in point: The ferry full of tourists on Monday off the Pahoa coast of Hawaii Island who were on a trip conducted by Lava Ocean Tours when they were suddenly pelted with burning rocks with one large rock landing on the roof of the watercraft and crashing through to where the passengers were seated. Twenty-three people were injured on that tour.

While the lure is definitely there for tourism, the responsibility of state government agencies to assure safety in the form of keeping a reasonable distance from the volcanic activity is in essence hampering businesses on the island. Ironically, it is healthy business activity that can help to turn around the damage that has been done by Kilauea. Over 500 homes have been destroyed by the current lava paths on the Big Island along with farms, roads, and infrastructure.

Right now, the only way to see the lava is by boat or by air. Businesses on Hawaii island are pressing for a lava viewing site to keep the tourist flow going, because so many of these businesses are dependent on tourism to keep the economy healthy.

Hawaii County’s Director of Research and Development said they have been working on setting up such a site for the past couple of months. This requires meeting with civil defense and scientists to determine a safe location for such a tourist site. And it isn’t just the lava itself that has to be taken into consideration; it’s also about the sulfuric emissions that can cause health issues that have to be factored into where such a location can be developed. It is likely that air filtration masks would need to be provided at a viewing site for visitor use.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was the Aloha state’s most popular tourist attraction, but the recent lava activity has caused access to the park to be closed indefinitely. This is causing tour guides, store merchants, and restaurants to lose business at the rate of 50 to 90% less than normal.



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