Access to shoreline areas and their uses for cultural and subsistence purposes have always been essential aspects of Native Hawaiian life. To maintain traditional uses of public shoreline areas and prevent encroachment by private landowners, the delineation of shoreline boundaries is crucial. This chapter explains the legal principles by which such boundaries are determined.
The public trust doctrine, which declares that all public natural resources are held in trust by the state for the benefit of its people, is enshrined in the Hawai‘i Constitution and has been upheld by Hawai‘i’s courts. Controversy has arisen, however, regarding the ownership of lands below the tidal high-water mark and lands newly destroyed or created by natural geographical changes such as erosion, accretion, reliction, avulsion, and lava extensions. In most cases involving these issues, the courts have concluded that the public trust doctrine overrides the interests of private landowners.
This chapter discusses the relevant cases in detail and outlines the administrative procedures for certifying shoreline boundaries. It also describes the distinctive features of the statutes and judicial rulings that specifically pertain to Hawai‘i.
“Kahakai: Shorelines” is Chapter 13 of Native Hawaiian Law: A Treatise, a volume that updates and expands on the seminal work of the 1991 Native Hawaiian Rights Handbook. The publication is a collaborative effort of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, Ka Huli Ao Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law at the William S. Richardson School of Law – University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, and Kamehameha Publishing.