The Big Island is known in our world as the home of the greatest one day endurance sports event in the world – with pristine oceans and beautiful coastlines. But, there’s an ugly side of the Big Island that doesn’t get as much attention. For generations, Kamilo Beach on the Kau coast of the Big Island of Hawaii was known as a magnet for driftwood. Two currents — one coming up from South Point and the other coming down from Cape Kumukahi — combined with fierce onshore winds to make this rocky stretch of shoreline the final resting place for plenty of natural debris.
Today, among those logs, seeds and grains of sand is something else entirely: a full rainbow of plastics ranging in scope from pea-sized building blocks called “nurdles” up to larger items like bottle caps, toothbrushes, fishing gear, computer monitors and barrels. More plastic ends up on the shores of Kamilo Beach than anywhere else in the United States – Thus it’s moniker: PLASTIC BEACH!
Kamilo Beach, known as Hawaii’s dirtiest, has become a symbol of the destructive wastefulness of contemporary life, and it’s about to get worse. It’s the victim of what’s known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a swirling mass of plastic garbage hundreds of miles wide between Hawaii and California. Currents from around the Pacific deposit trash in the gyre, which spins rubbish out onto Hawaii’s shoreline.
The next big surge is feared to come from the debris dragged into the ocean by the March 11 tsunami in Japan. It will reach the islands in the next few years. Even more scary, is it’s unclear whether the debris has been tainted by the thousands of gallons of nuclear-contaminated water that were dumped into the Pacific Ocean in recent weeks.
The Hawaiian Wildlife Fund has been cleaning the beach up one truckload at a time for the past several years. Over 130 tons since 2003 – 2/3 of which they say are old fishing nets. Recently, in one day, one of the regular clean-up groups pulled over 500 pounds of debris from the breach.
Hawaii is hopeful that the passing of new laws such as Senate Bill 1363, which will add a 10 cent fee for all single use retail bags – paper and plastic, and just passed the House of Reps, will help reduce the problem. But, for it to really help, other states need to adopt similar laws, and even then, it will take decades before the change is noticed on places like Plastic Beach on the Big Island. The good news is that awareness of the problem is on the rise – now we just need to take action.