Story by Aaron Kandell
Photos by Jyoti Mau
A half-dozen outrigger canoes line the narrow beach on Sand Island. Fishermen squat on overturned buckets, reeling in sardines. Jet skiers rip across Ke‘ehi Lagoon, racing around the perimeter of a flat, barren island. No one pays much attention to the four weathered houses clinging like barnacles to this sand spit, nor to the old man reclining on his porch pier over the water.
“I first came to Mokauea in 1960,” says Alejandro Romo, former president of the Mokauea Fisherman’s Association and its oldest surviving member. “I was working at Dole Cannery, and all my friends—the forklift operators—lived on the island. They invited me to stay and I never left.” With his bald head and perpetual smile, Romo looks like a contented Buddha. In many ways he is like Mokauea itself: insular, unassuming, easily overlooked. Yet once you visit, neither is easily forgotten.