Inside Jason Momoa's fight for sacred Hawaiian mountain

Protesters fight installation of telescope

By Marianne Garvey, CNN
AP via CNN

The way Jason Momoa describes Hawaii's beloved dormant volcano, Mauna Kea, makes you understand why it's considered sacred.

(CNN) - The way Jason Momoa describes Hawaii's beloved dormant volcano, Mauna Kea, makes you understand why it's considered sacred.

"It's kind of the umbilical cord to earth," the actor tells CNN. "You know, if you think about the Hawaiian islands, that's the biggest mountain in the world, right? All the way up. So Mauna Kea is the most sacred. They call it the belly button, too. That's like our birth place. You can imagine that in the middle of the ocean. That's how our islands were formed. So how can that not be sacred?"

He would know. Momoa, a native of Hawaii, has had a near-constant presence there when he's not working, fighting with local protestors to stop the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope, or TMT, which would drill directly into the mountain and, according to critics of the project, invade its precious water supply. (Between the foot of Mauna Kea and the summit measures 10,000 meters, making it the "tallest" mountain in the world.)

So far, protestors have successfully blocked the only road crews seeking to ascend the mountain in order to build the billion-dollar observatory can use.

"It started in 2015, heard the news about it and you know, it's, it's my home. I'm Hawaiian. It's my nationality. What's happening over there was just not right," Momoa says. "And I wanted to bring awareness to it. And I went over there to meet with everyone and from then on, it's just been this constant as a devotion to bringing awareness to the world."

In between photo shoots, TV appearances, prepping for "Aquaman 2," and spending time with his family, Momoa joins the protests when he can. He cares so deeply about the preservation of the land that this week when he had just 12 free hours to lend his support, he was there.

"You also have to remember, that's our water source. So having an 18-story building built on top of the tallest mountain from the sea level on our water table, that's seven stories just to go in and crack into our water table. Well, there's not even eight, seven stories allowed to build in Hilo or in Kona (both located on Hawaii's Big Island.) So we can't go that high in Hilo or Kona, why can you build double and go into our water table?" Momoa wants to know. "I mean it's just kind of preposterous."

Currently, there are 13 other telescopes that exist on the mountain, but Momoa says they're not as large and they're mostly non-functioning.

"Most of them are outdated and they're not as big. They're just up there and they promised to remove them and they never have. It's just another one of those promises... and we're done. We're over it," he says.

The "Game of Thrones" star says he feels the movement is working and describes his part in it as a calling to do what feels right in his soul.

"There's massive progress that's bringing our people together," he says, adding, "I think there's a lot of problems in Hawaii. There's a lot of things that have happened in our history, a lot of injustice, and so we're shining a light on it. People like myself or Dwayne Johnson, Bruno Mars, trying to spread the awareness all around the world. For my soul I need to be there. If I'm not working, I'm trying to get over there."

He's made a video to get the word out on what's happening on the mountain.

"Everything I'm putting out on the video is something I want to give back," he says. "This is the people's voice."

Momoa explains that since he and Johnson have been shining a light on what's happening, the TMT has been given an additional two years to start construction, which means no additional heavy equipment will be moved up the mountain currently. But it's not a win. In July, a judge in Hawaii denied a request for a temporary restraining order that would have prevented scientists from building the TMT.

"I don't think anything's gonna be happening up on the mountain for a while, because when I did get really involved, they pushed it back for two more years and that's pretty crazy," he says.

But he's planning to stay involved -- even if it coincides with the filming of "Aquaman 2."

"It's definitely a fear of mine. You know, I, I love playing 'Aquaman,' and there may come a time where it happens that I'm on set on something that I really love and Warner Brothers, who has taken care of me and launched my career, and there's a certain part of you that goes, 'I'm human, this is something I care about, but it's an injustice that I have to do something about."

Oh, and he also wants the internet to know he wasn't really run over by a bulldozer. (Many people thought he was serious.)

"Sorry, Warner Bros. We can't shoot 'Aquaman 2' because Jason got run over by a bulldozer trying to stop the desecration of his native land," Momoa captioned a picture showing the 1992 construction of the Subaru Telescope, also located on Mauna Kea.

"I was making a joke saying, you know, Jason got ran over by a bulldozer. I actually didn't get run over by a bulldozer, that's what's amazing about the whole thing," he laughs. "'Aquaman' doesn't start for a while, that's why I was saying it was a joke."

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