Police have begun arresting protesters gathered at the base of Hawaii’s tallest volcano, Mauna Kea, to stop the construction of a giant telescope on what they say is their most sacred ground.
Protest leader Kealoha Pisciotta told The Associated Press that police had arrested 30 elders, called kupuna in Hawaiian, on Wednesday.
Some of the elders used canes and strollers to walk, while others were taken in wheelchairs to police vans. Those who could walk on their own were led away with their hands in zip ties.
The elders were among about 2,000 people blocking the road to the summit of Mauna Kea in an attempt to stop construction material and workers from reaching the top.
The $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope is expected to be one of the world’s most advanced.
Opponents of the the telescope say it will desecrate sacred land. According to the University of Hawaii, ancient Hawaiians considered the location kapu, or forbidden. Only the highest-ranking chiefs and priests were allowed to make the long trek to Mauna Kea’s summit above the clouds.
Supporters of the telescope, however, say it will not only make important scientific discoveries but bring educational and economic opportunities to Hawaii.
The company behind the telescope is made up of a group of universities in California and Canada, with partners from China, India and Japan.
Astronomers hope the telescope will help them look back 13 billion years to the time, just after the Big Bang, and answer fundamental questions about the universe.