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It is easy to see how Popoia came to be called Flat Island: it looks like a flat slab of rock in Kailua Bay on the Windward coast of Oahu. The island is a popular kayak destination. Since it is only 350 yards from shore, it is possible for even novice kayakers to reach. The small island is surrounded on three sides by a jagged reef but the sandy cove on its southwest side makes a good landing spot.
I enjoy watching the little yellow kayaks as they try to form a line behind the leader on the way out. Once on the island, people are asked to walk carefully as it is a State Seabird Sanctury. Although the island looks flat from a distance, there are many sink holes that are often used by nesting birds. A survey in 2000 estimated over three thousand wedge-tailed shearwaters were on the four-acre island. According to the Offshore Islet Restoration Committee, rats used to prey on the nests but they were washed away by a tsunami over sixty years ago. That 1946 tsunami also destroyed a fishing shrine. The OIRC says the island’s name “Popoia” means “fish rot” and speculates that it referred to offerings left at the shrine.
The island greets several groups of kayakers nearly every day and it is also popular with researchers. Because it is so accessible, many seabird researchers have visited since the first recorded survey in 1915 “making it one of the best surveyed colonies on Hawaii’s offshore islets” according to the OIRC website. The delicate ecosystem of this tiny island is damaged when people venture off the established trails or bring pets along. While dogs are welcome on Kailua Beach, they are forbidden on Flat Island.