Cleaning Up Kamilo Beach

Lanikai Beach is often described as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.  The Big Island’s Kamilo Beach holds a far less complimentary title: Hawaii’s dirtiest beach.  It didn’t earn that name on its own and residents fear it will be a long time before Kamilo Beach can ever shake the lousy label.

Just what could cause a beach in paradise to become so undesirable?  It seems a combination of carelessness and natural disasters is a recipe for rubbish.

Due to its location, local ocean currents, and strong winds, Kamilo Beach, has become the dumping ground for the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a man-made mass of mostly plastics and garbage that is estimated at twice the size of Texas and floating somewhere between Hawaii and San Francisco.

In addition to the waste carried on currents to Kamilo, Honolulu Civil Beat found evidence of local leftovers – including plastics, sauce packets and cigarettes – on a recent visit to the beach.

Local residents, like the Director of Research at the Hawaii Wildlife Fund, Bill Gilmartin, have been doing their best to keep the dirty debris at bay, organizing beach cleanups and hauling away truckloads of trash.

But their task is about to get tougher.  The recent Japan earthquake and resulting tsunami dragged more debris into the ocean.  And it’s headed for Hawaii.

University of Hawaii at Manoa Pacific Research Center has predicted that Hawaii will get hit not just once, but potentially three times by the tsunami trash; the Northern Hawaiian Islands will receive the first rush of rubbish in about one year, the other islands in two years, and after the debris circles and rejoins the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, it will return to Hawaii in about five years. (Source)

As the trash mass multiples, clean up crews are becoming discouraged and residents are wondering what we can do to keep Kamilo Beach clean.  We can’t stop Mother Nature and we can’t control the currents.  But here’s what we can do:

Support plastic bag fee bills and/or anti-plastic bag legislation.  No plastic bags or less plastic bags in Hawaii means less of a chance that plastic bags ending up in our oceans.

If you see rubbish, pick it up. If every resident and visitor picked up the plastics and trash we pass by on the beaches and in the streets, we could significantly reduce the rubbish that sails to sea, circulates, joins the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and returns to our shores.

Reach for reusables rather than disposables.  If we buy and use less throw-away containers, cups, and bottles we reduce the risk that our trash will land on our beaches or in the ocean, and we lessen our contribution to landfills.

Say no to sauce packets, straws, lids and other unnecessary items.  If you aren’t going to eat 10 packets of ketchup on your one small fry, leave them at your favorite fast food joint for the next customer to enjoy and keep them off the beaches and out of the oceans.

Lead by example.  If you remember to reduce (your usage of disposables), reuse (bags, bottles, containers), and recycle (your plastics, paper, aluminum, etc at every chance you get), and put trash where it belongs – in the rubbish bin, not the ground – your friends and family are more likely to do the same.

Continue to help with clean ups.  Our beaches need our help.  Join a local beach clean up or form your own.

The trash circulating in the sea and coming ashore in Hawaii is substantial.  It is undoubtedly going to get worse before it gets better.  And while we can’t stop natural disasters or dictate the behavior of others, we can make better choices and take care of our aina.  Our islands are worth the effort.