HONOLULU -- Opponents of the Thirty Meter Telescope project on Hawaii's Big Island have pulled out of their camp due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.
The move came after more than eight months of nonviolent protests at the base of the Mauna Kea Access Road, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Thursday.
Construction of one of the world’s largest telescopes on Hawaii’s tallest mountain, Mauna Kea, has been stalled by project opponents who say the telescope will desecrate land considered sacred by some Native Hawaiians.
The large tents erected last year as a warehouse, kitchen and instructional area were removed and protest supporters were asked to leave, protest leader Andre Perez said Wednesday.
“Because of the concern for human health and safety, we’ve decided to leave,” Perez said. “We feel that there’s no imminent threat from TMT, that’s our assessment, and so human health and safety is paramount for us.”
Protesters posted videos on social media saying medical professionals advised them to reduce travel and “stay in our bubbles and remain home” until the coronavirus threat passes.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
Protesters successfully blocked the access road for more than five months. Law enforcement officials arrested 39 protesters on July 17 for obstructing the road during nonviolent demonstrations but never made another attempt to clear the road.
Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim pledged in December there would be no police effort to remove protesters from the mountain and convinced telescope opponents to move tents and other equipment off the road.
Construction has not advanced since then because protesters continued to camp near the road and hold demonstrations.
Perez does not expect the departure of protesters will prompt officials to restart the project in the near future, although no promises were made.
“We have not gotten any pledges or any confirmation or agreement with them at all,” Perez said.
He added: “We’re confident that they’re not going to move with TMT during this time of pandemic crisis.”