From pristine sunrises breaking over Hualalai’s summit to green flashes beyond Kailua Bay, the Gold Coast’s intense beauty is now shining through air so rarified it’s not been seen in decades.
“I think we’re experiencing some of the clearest visibility, some of the best air quality that any of us have ever seen,” said Wendy Laros, a 27-year West Hawaii resident and executive director of the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce.
She sees lots of benefits from the change.
“We definitely believe this will enhance the experience for our visitors and for those who live here,” Laros said, noting chamber staff are no longer fielding numerous calls daily from people asking about the effects of volcanic haze known as “vog.”
That’s because for the first time since Kilauea volcano started erupting in 1983, leeward areas are no longer being polluted with unrelenting vog plumes that prevailing trade winds funneled around the Big Island’s southern tip, then north along the Kona Coast and beyond, stretching as far as Oahu.
The vog-free view from the Kealakekua home of Lance Owens above, and the same vantage point during Kilauea’s heavy eruptive stage earlier this year, below.
The pollution, comprised mainly of hazardous sulfur dioxide and acid particles, sometimes got so thick people would mistakenly report wildfires.
Conditions changed for the better when the catastrophic lava-spewing that began in May suddenly ended, resulting in a near-complete cessation of emissions. By September, fresh, clean air began purging the vog-filled skies over West Hawaii.
On a recent day, the Hawaii Department of Health’s website reported zero sulfur dioxide parts per million at each of several monitors placed around the island in response to the eruption.
Longtime West Hawaii residents like Cindi Punihaole notice the improved air.
“On sunset on Christmas Eve, we had a green flash,” said Punihaole, an ocean educator with The Kohala Center. “Normally it’s rare to see a green flash (because of the vog), but we’re experiencing them now, so we’re fortunate.”
Impacts of the clean air, should it last – and that’s a big if given Kilauea volcano’s status as the world’s most-active volcano — are expected to go well beyond beauty to affect the tourism industry, resident health and even property values, according to experts in those fields.
Basically, it’s the bright side of a disaster that destroyed more than 700 homes in the Puna region.
“I think everybody is going to start coming back to the island,” said Ross Birch, executive director of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau.
Big Island tourism was down 10 percent in November compared to 2017, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s latest tally, but Birch attributed part of the drop to being paired against last year’s record-high visitor count.
“Air quality is definitely something we mention in almost everything we talk about,” he said. “It’s far better than we’ve seen it in the last 35 years. The ocean’s bluer, the mountain’s greener.”
Full article at Civil Beat