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A Brief History of Coconut Island
Moku o Lo'e, more commonly known as Coconut Island, is a picturesque, 23-acre island in Kane'ohe Bay. The once scrubby, uninhabited island was initially owned by the B. P. Bishop Estate, which leased it to sheep ranchers or left it unused. Christian Holmes, heir to the Fleischmann Yeast fortune, bought the island in 1937. He transformed 12.5 sparse and inhospitable acres into a lush, tropical, garden isle of 23 acres by dredging from the surrounding coral reef. Holmes created lagoons, spits, fishponds, and a natural swimming pool and constructed several buildings on the island, including a main house to be used for entertaining, additional living quarters, a beach house, a bowling alley, a shooting gallery and several recreation areas. Landscaped with an abundance of coconut palms and other tropical plants, the island acquired its popular nickname.
Edwin W. Pauley, a California oil man and avid water sportsman, his brother Harold, and three other investors bought the island in 1946 from the estate of Christian Holmes, who had died two years earlier. Eventually, Edwin and Barbara Pauley and their children, Stephen, Susan, and Robert, became sole owners and primary users of the island. For many years they were summertime residents on the island and visited as often as Pauley's active business and political schedule allowed. Pauley invited the University of Hawai'i to establish a marine laboratory on a portion of Coconut Island. The original modest field station, where a few professors worked on weekends, would grow into a world-class marine research institute with a permanent staff and an international reputation for excellence in several areas of marine science.
The early lab, in a converted WWII barracks on the south side of the island, proved to be ideal for coral reef and tropical estuarine studies. The part of the island where this lab stood, and all the peripheral shoreline were eventually held to be state-owned since that land was accreted from the subtidal zone. Nevertheless, when this makeshift lab was destroyed by fire in 1961, the Pauley family supported construction of a new, state-of-the-art laboratory. In 1965 the lab became known as the Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB).
Edwin W. Pauley died in 1981. Barbara Pauley later married William R. Pagen. The Pauley children, now with families of their own, had little time for the island of their childhood summers. With great reluctance, Mrs. Pagen sold the 12.5 private acres of Coconut Island to Japanese businessman Katsuhiro Kawaguchi in 1987. Sale of the island did not sever the family's ties to the University of Hawai'i, however. By 1993 what had been state-of-the-art facilities three decades earlier could barely keep up with an ever-improving scientific arena. The Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology began to look for ways to utilize new scientific technologies and expand beyond the capabilities of the current laboratory. The Edwin W. Pauley Foundation has committed more than $9.6 million-the largest individual contribution ever received by the University of Hawai'i-to purchase the privately held portion of Coconut Island and to build on the island a world-class marine laboratory and maintenance facility.
The facilities at the heart of this vision-the Edwin W. Pauley Marine Laboratory and the Barbara Pauley Pagen and William R. Pagen Library-pay tribute to Edwin Pauley, whose illustrious career as a statesman, philanthropist, sportsman, educator and businessman touched so many lives in Hawai'i, and to the generosity of a family known for their concern for others, love of the sea, and special affection for Coconut Island. The University of Hawai'i is proud to honor such special friends in this way.