A boat tour skirts the lava flow off the side of the Big Island, Hawaii.

Living on the Lava

Alternative lifestyles and defiance on Hawaii’s Big Island, where locals live in tenuous harmony with an active volcano.

Hurricane Lane narrowly missed making landfall in Hawaii in the last week of August, but the tropical cyclone still pummeled the Big Island with record levels of rain and high winds. It wasn’t the first extreme weather to hit the island this year: this past May, lava pouring out of its volcano, Kilauea, flowed into a residential subdivision called Leilani Estates. The flow eventually destroyed 36 structures and forced the evacuation of thousands of people.

Hawaii, one of the world’s the most isolated archipelagos, is no stranger to volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and high winds. But these photographs, taken on the Big Island last year, are not about disaster; rather, they depict a community of people before they received months of relentless bad news. Some of them are Hawaiian secessionists who claim independence from the US; some live in eco-villages in the forest. Kilauea has been erupting continuously since 1983, and people continue to build homes on the lava as it cools. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also sends climate scientists to Cape Kumukahi weekly, to sample air that has just traveled over the Pacific Ocean. It is, arguably, the cleanest air on earth.


Sleeping on Kehena Black Sand Beach, Pahoa, Hawaii.
Michael climbing down to Kehena Black Sand Beach.
Jonathan and Iris weedwacking, Pi'ilani Farm and Community, Pahoa.
Ano collecting coconuts for the Gaia Yoga community, Pahoa.
Handsome and Joey fishing, Kolekole Beach Park, Hawaii.
Leanne drinking coconut water, Kanekiki Community, Pahoa.
Vegetable garden, Kalapana, Hawaii.
Food storage, Gaia Yoga community, Pahoa.
Alohalani’s home off the grid, Kalapana.
Sam hunting goats, Mauna Loa, Hawaii.
Surface flow from Kilauea, Kalapana.
Aidan collecting an air sample for the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s Global Monitoring Division, Cape Kumukahi.
Goda and Lev on their second date.
Alivia doing a handstand.
Tenderness on the Big Island.
Odin with his bicycle, Kalapana.

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