Beach Clean Up with Kapa Sungear 4/10/22
One of the things I wanted to do before I left Maui for the season was another beach clean-up at the beach north of Kahului harbor. You can read the blog post I wrote about that first clean up here. Amanda from Kapa Sungear was able to get grain bags from Mahalo Aleworks which is closer to where we live rather than getting kits from the Ocean Store. We submitted all of our clean up data to Pacific Whale Foundation at the end of our clean up just like the first one.
The weekend before I left, we gathered up our housemates and one of our fellow naturalist friends to give it another go on the windward side of the island. The rocky shoreline around Kahului harbor gets heavy wave action everyday due to the trade winds that blow across the island from that side. The beach is constantly changing and many things that drift in the open ocean eventually end up there.
As soon as we arrived at the parking area we noticed a huge pile of trash up against the concrete barriers. I looked at everyone in our group and said – “well we definitely can’t leave this pile here.” We had expected to all be walking up and down the beach, but this pile took us almost an hour to clean.
It seemed to be a mix of trash that had blown in from the ocean and people’s household trash. The pile smelled like rotting food. There were clothes and shoes, even personal mail and paperwork in the pile. As we got deeper into the pile, Lee said “This seems like a place where there would be scorpions” and sure enough we saw one just a few minutes later. We carefully moved it away from the pile and kept working.
Jordan found the scoop from a large shovel in the pile and started using it to shovel the smaller debris into our bags. After about 40 minutes of us all working on the pile we had filled over 10 grain bags. The pile was dwindling, and we were running out of room to all work together. So, I picked up a fresh bag and started walking around on the beach a little further away from the group.
I wandered up and down the beach near the driftwood sculptures picking up little pieces of plastic in between the cobblestones and under the driftwood. About 10 minutes later the others had finished the pile and joined me on the beach. There were so many types of small plastic pieces. One of the most common identifiable pieces were the oyster spacers again, just like we found last time. There were also dozens of small pieces of small rope and net – much of it caught up on the driftwood pieces scattered on top of all the rocks. All the rope and net I picked up were synthetic, made of plastic.
After an hour and a half of cleaning we had filled 18 grain bags of trash, one of them was halfway filled with just hagfish trap pieces that we found in the pile by the parking lot. Amanda saved them and coordinated with the local Surfrider chapter to drop them off to someone who can analyze and use them for their campaign work. The rest we hauled in the truck for disposal. It was a good thing we all carpooled from the house in the biggest truck, because we filled the entire bed with trash. We tallied up all our debris and sent it in to Pacific Whale Foundation for their debris monitoring program. By the end of our hour and a half clean up, we had picked up thousands of items between the five of us.
We did find some treasures along the way. We found some cool bones and shells throughout the clean up. Steven found probably the most precious of beach finds, a piece of red beach glass. It's rare to find red glass, it's not commonly made anymore and it doesn't turn up on the beach often. I've only found one tiny piece of it my whole life.
The heavy cobblestones and driftwood on the beach do a great job of hiding all the plastic that washes up. But if you are walking slow and look closely, you will notice plastic everywhere. All I could think about while I was picking through the layers was: “There is going to be a geologic record of this. Someday a geologist is going to know what time in history this was because of all the plastic in the rock layers” We have left our marks on this planet in so many ways, and we will be remembered for eons to come. I often think about how our plastic debris will also affect the deep sea. Those slow paced ecosystems are being changed by our plastic sinking to the depths, especially our microplastics that are mixing with the natural “marine snow". During upwelling events, water rises from the deep sea that hasn’t been at the surface for hundreds, if not a thousand years.
Even if we stop all pollution and get rid of plastic today, we are already past the point of no return of being able to clean all this up. Does this mean we should stop trying? No way. I think it’s always worthwhile to clean up as much as we can. I've heard one of my ocean heroes, Dr Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, explain it like this: we need to think about what percentage we can save, can we save 80% of the environment? 50%? 10%? Something is always going to be better than nothing. But the truth is, some of it is already gone. So how can we stop it from progressing further? We need to face the reality of the environmental disasters before us, so that we can have an objective view of how to move forward.
While cleaning things up is a worthwhile cause and activity to do, stopping pollution at its source is essential. I encourage everyone to look for ways to slow their own consumerism where they can. But we also need to demand more from corporations that drive these situations we are in. We live in an age where we can solve many of these disasters our planet is facing, we have the technology. Can we bring the knowledge to the right people and places? Can we create space for the motivation to change? I sure hope so.