Hawaii’s Plastic Beach

Hawaii’s Plastic Beach
Kamilo Beach

Kamilo Beach

Earth’s oceans are vast – they cover 71% of our planet’s surface – and the majority of that area is never visited or even seen by people, which can make it easy to ignore the growing problem of pollution in our waters. It’s an especially difficult issue to tackle because, even in the parts of the ocean that we can see, most of the trash actually sinks or floats below the surface, making it hard to determine just what’s going on out there. As the saying goes, what’s out of sight is out of mind, but there’s one place where all this pollution is being made painfully obvious: Hawaii’s Kamilo Beach, where every year tons of garbage are deposited by the waves and piled high on what was once beautiful white sand.

What’s special about Kamilo Beach?

Hawaii is situated in the path of the North Pacific Gyre, a swirling ocean current that circles the Pacific between North America and Japan. Trash from all over the world gets swept up in these predictable currents, and the Hawaiian Islands act like a comb, collecting trash as it blows by. A lot of this waste ends up on the sands of Kamilo Beach, a strip of once-white sand situated on the southern tip of Hawaii’s Big Island. Named for the swirling currents that used to sweep in logs and shipwrecked sailors, Kamilo Beach is now home to a vast pile of garbage that is miles long and as deep as ten feet in some places.

What’s in that big pile of garbage?

The majority of the trash that washes up on Kamilo Beach – as high as 90% –  is plastic. Some of this is regular household waste: plastic bags, food containers, and toothbrushes can all be found piled high on the shore. But there is also a lot of industrial plastic waste, including fishing nets, ropes, buoys, and cages. This type of trash is particularly dangerous because it can mangle, trap, or choke wildlife both in the water and on shore. Every year the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) sends out divers to disentangle all this debris from the delicate coral reefs around Hawaii, but it continues to pile up.

Another important component of ocean debris that is easily missed but no less dangerous are the tiny plastic pellets known as nurdels. When plastic is manufactured it is pressed into tiny balls to make for easy transportation and handling, and every year tons of these pellets find their way into the oceans from industrial accidents and mishandling. Add that to the billions of tiny plastic pieces that result from the breakdown of larger plastic trash, and you’ve got a big problem. These small bits of plastic are especially dangerous because they can soak up surrounding toxins like BPA, DDT, and phthalates, which are then ingested by the organisms that mistakenly eat the pellets. The shoreline on Kamilo Beach includes millions of these tiny pieces of plastic mingled in with the sand.

Where does it all come from?

The trash that washes ashore in Hawaii comes from all over the world – it’s blown out to sea from coastal landfills, dumped off the side of boats, or swept out from shore with the tide. And because the ocean actually slows down the decomposition of plastic by blocking access to light and air, all those plastic bottles and fishing nets can travel on ocean currents for decades before they end up deposited on Kamilo Beach. For example, in 2000 researchers in the Midway Atoll found a piece of plastic in an albatross’s stomach that they traced back to a plane shot down during World War II: the plastic had been riding ocean currents for 50 years before it found its way to shore.

What can you do?

Avoiding plastics is always one of the best things you can do to help the environment. Replace plastic bagsbottles, and other items with reusable or compostable options and make sure that the plastic you do use makes it way to a recycling center and stays out of the trash bin. Another great way to help is to contribute to environmental cleanup efforts. You can donate money to organizations that research and dispose of ocean trash or volunteer with local programs that provide education and trash pickups in your area. No matter where it is, the garbage piling up in our environment is a problem that affects us all, and when we all make these kinds of small changes it can add up to a big difference.

3 Responses to “Hawaii’s Plastic Beach”
  1. it’s only being discussed “How we can avoid using plastic/wasting it “etc. BUT WHAT are all the recycling companes doin about this ? ( http://www.mastbusiness.com/bizarticles/ba430/ ) Do they “KNOW” about this?..I guess it’s kinda dumb question, but seriously SHOULDN’t it ALSO be a part of the plan to clean up this ugly mess?That in addition to avoiding the trash,goverments&PEOPLE would make it clear that this trash needs to be removed&recycled…SOON!Now.

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