A 2003 archaeological survey located and mapped stone platforms and ahu (rock cairns). One site is over 800-years old. Ancient Hawaiians visited Lehua for fishing and feather collecting.
Lehua was one of the first five islands sighted by Captain James Cook in 1778, which he referred to as “Oreehoua”.
Cook first sighted Oʻahu on January 18, 1778. On February 2, 1778 his journal entry named the island group after his patron: “Of what number this newly-discovered Archipelago consists, must be left for future investigation. We saw five of them, whose names, as given by the natives, are Woahoo (Oʻahu,) Atooi (Kauaʻi,) Oneeheow (Niʻihau,) Oreehoua (Lehua) and Tahoora (Kaʻula.) …. I named the whole group the Sandwich Islands, in honour of the Earl of Sandwich.” (Clement)
Lehua, part of Kauaʻi County, is approximately ¾ -mile north of Niʻihau and about 18-miles west of Kauaʻi. The largest of Hawaiʻi’s offshore islets, Lehua is about 290-acres in size and 702-feet high at the highest point. It is more than twice the size of Kaʻula.
Several sea caves are present on Lehua, including Anakukaiaiki which is home to Kukaiaiki, son of the shark god Kuhaimoana. (Kuhaimoana was a deified shark (ʻaumakua) who lived at the island of Kaʻula and had a cave so large that a small schooner could sail through it. “Kuonoono ka lua o Kuhaimoana” means, “He has a cave like Kuhaimoana’s.”) (OIRC)
The volcanic crater that formed Lehua 4.9-million years ago has been sculpted by marine erosion and is dominated by grasslands and herblands.
It is in the rain shadow of Kauaʻi and is very dry, especially during the heat of summer. Much of the island is bare rock; eroded sediment has collected only in gully bottoms, ledges and small caves. Vegetation is sparse but many plants have a growth spurt after winter rains.
The south side of the island is characterized by steep sea cliffs notched with sea caves at the water’s edge. The cliffs taper off to low-lying points that border a wide-mouthed bay opening to the north.
Lehua Island was set aside as a Lighthouse site under the control of the US Department of Commerce in a proclamation dated August 10, 1928. The island is owned by the US Coast Guard and managed by the State DLNR.
The federal government built a lighthouse on Lehua, the highest beacon operating in marine service. It is situated on a narrow ledge along the crest of the islet. (Brown, HJH)
The light became operational in April 1931 and was visible for about 15-miles. A modern light is in operation at present and is maintained by US Coast Guard personnel using a helicopter to land on the narrow crest of the island. (Brown, HJH)
Lehua is one of the largest seabird colonies in the main Hawaiian Islands. The island is designated as a State Seabird Sanctuary and DLNR-DOFAW is responsible for the management of such Sanctuaries and is a trustee for seabirds and other native plant and wildlife resources on the Sanctuaries. Lehua is home to at least eleven species of seabirds, as well as monk seals and native coastal plants. (DLNR)
Lehua is important for the number and diversity of breeding seabirds it supports and for the presence of several seabird species that are rare or have restricted breeding ranges. (Audubon)
Surveys estimate approximately 50,000-seabirds are on Lehua. Seventeen seabird species are present, including eleven species nesting or attempting to nest on the island. Some of the bird species found include Laysan and Black-footed Albatross, Red-Footed and Brown Boobies, Red-tailed Tropicbirds, Hawaiian Petrels, Band-rumped Storm Petrels, and Newell’s and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. Migratory shorebirds also visit the island. (USFWS)
The Brown Booby colony on Lehua is the largest in the Hawaiian Islands with 521-breeding pairs, and the Red-footed Booby colony is one of the two largest in the Hawaiian Islands, with 1,294-pairs and approximately 4,288-total individuals. The colonies of Laysan Albatross (28 pairs, 93 total individuals) and Black-footed Albatross (16 pairs, 53 total individuals) are small but appear to be growing. (Audubon)
These species appear to be declining in Hawaiʻi and may be difficult to manage on the larger Hawaiian Islands. Offshore islets such as Lehua may become increasingly important in the conservation of these species because their small size makes it more feasible to eradicate predators and manage other threats. (Audubon)
When the first biologists visited Lehua in 1931, Polynesian rats and Rabbits had already been introduced. Rats eat many native species of plants, insect, seabirds and intertidal invertebrates; they are a major threat to island by decimating native plants, allowing alien plants to dominate, and impacting smaller seabird species.
In 2005, resource managers were able to eradicate the feral rabbits (with that, seabirds no longer have to fight for their burrows;) the efforts to eradicate the rats is ongoing.
Landing on Lehua requires permission from the US Coast Guard. Activities on Lehua are also subject to Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources regulations for State Seabird Sanctuaries.
Disturbance of seabirds and other wildlife within the sanctuary is forbidden. Federal law also protects seabirds, shorebirds, and threatened or endangered species.