Every Bit Counts

Miki TomitaPick up a Bit of Beach Trash on Saturday for International Coastal Cleanup!

By Miki Tomita

Years ago, I was part of an environmental action group whose main focus was the problem of marine debris. We used to spend hours and hours every month hauling broken crates and plastic jugs from shoreline naupaka, cutting nets and fishing line from tidepool rocks and reefs, and sifting sand for tiny tiny pieces of plastic.

Along with hundreds and thousands of other concerned volunteers and organizations around the world, we were troubled by the growing amount of plastic we saw floating in on the tides, buried in the sand, blowing around in streets, and in the bellies of the fish we eat or the birds and other animals we seek to protect. And while the number of people who are working to help solve this plastic problem is on the rise, so too seems to be the amount of trash we find. I remember going to the same spot at the same beach every week for a month one winter, and removing the same amount of trash each time…. It seemed that each wave brought in more plastic large and small to replace what I just removed. The situation seemed so hopeless… but…

I firmly believe that every bit counts.

Every scoop of sand reveals nurdles, tiny bits of pre-production plastic that are the raw material that plastic products are made from.

Every scoop of sand reveals nurdles, tiny bits of pre-production plastic that are the raw material that plastic products are made from.

When you look at the efforts of people all around the world, we know that there is hope. People are becoming more aware of not just the “forever-ness” of plastic, but also the toxicity of certain types of plastics. The quest to eliminate or reduce single-use plastic has been taken on by many high profile organizations and individuals, as well as governments and communities.

Hawaii and Hawaiʻi people are some of the leaders of these initiatives – President Obama signed a bill that prohibits selling and distributing products containing microbeads – those tiny beads in face scrubs, toothpaste, and antibacterial gels you probably didn’t even know were plastic – to protect our nation’s waters; and Hawaiʻi became the first state to ban plastic bags at grocery store checkouts.

Movies and books about the large garbage patches in the ocean are now common, and names like Captain Charles Moore of Algalita Foundation, Marcus Eriksen and Anna Cummins of 5 Gyres, Jack and Kim Johnson of Kōkua Hawaiʻi Foundation, and Dianna Cohen of Plastic Pollution Coalition are well-known in environmental and sustainability circles, if not mainstream society. Innovative individuals are creating new products out of old materials, and new technologies are being created to remove more plastic from oceans and shorelines than ever before. People like Kahi Pacarro and Sustainable Coastlines Hawaiʻi team up with Bureo Skateboards to “upcycle” plastics from beach cleanups into skateboards, and are working hard to bring innovative interventions such as the Trash Water Wheel to our island home.

image03This weekend ushers in the annual International Coastal Cleanup, the world’s largest volunteer effort for the ocean. Started in 1985 as a local cleanup in South Padre Island, Texas, The Ocean Conservancy’s Coastal Cleanup went global in 1989 when it spread to Canada and Mexico. Last year, on its 30th anniversary, more than 18 million pounds of trash was removed by nearly 800,000 volunteers in one day. The Ocean Conservancy’s Ocean Trash Index is the world’s largest item-by-item, location-by-location database of trash found in near-shore environments. Over 30 years, 11.5 million volunteers have helped to remove and log more than 225 million items of trash from beaches and waterways around the world.

This year, The Ocean Conservancy has released an app version of their data collection card, Clean Swell. It is AMAZING. Easy to use, engaging, and best of all – does not go flying away down the beach as you try to pick up trash with one hand, hold a collection bag with another, and record data using paper and pencil.

Nicholas Mallos of The Ocean Conservancy trying out the Clean Swell app to document his progress during the beach cleanup.

Nicholas Mallos of The Ocean Conservancy trying out the Clean Swell app to document his progress during the beach cleanup.

I tested the app out with Nicholas Mallos, the director of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas program, out in Kahuku at James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge. We were participating in a World Conservation Congress event hosted by the US State Department involving representatives from 5 different countries as well as local government agencies. This was one of 6 coast-to-coast beach cleanups hosted by the US State Department as part of their build-up to the Our Ocean Conference where our own Nainoa Thompson will be speaking, along with many other incredible advocates for the ocean.

Clean Swell app

Clean Swell app

In about 1.5 hours, I picked up almost 15 pounds of trash, and logged hundreds of data points. The app then congratulated me on my first cleanup (sigh), provided a quick fact about plastic pollution, and updated me on my progress in helping to steward the ocean. It was a fun, quick and informative experience, one that I think my students and fellow crewmembers will find easy to do.

When Marcus Eriksen presented at IUCN last week during the Student Day Design Challenge, he encouraged students to dream incredible solutions to huge problems like plastic pollution. He encouraged kids to take our Mālama Honua Challenge, and share with us their ideas about work that can be done in the future. For those of you who are doing another kind of project to mālama your community, please Share Your Mālama Honua Story with us!

So about this weekend… download the app, and join a Coastal Cleanup near you! Sustainable Coastlines Hawaiʻi has posted information on several cleanups on Oʻahu spanning from Town to North Shore, including what is anticipated to be the largest effort of the year in Kahuku – a cleanup at James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge hosted by Plastic Free Hawaiʻi – Kōkua Hawaiʻi Foundation and Sustainable Coastlines Hawaiʻi. Not all cleanups are happening on Saturday – if you find yourself near Kahana Bay on Sunday, Kahana Kilo Kai and Keep the Hawaiʻi Islands Beautiful are hosting a cleanup. If you are not on Oʻahu, click here to find cleanup locations near you using the Ocean Conservancy interactive map. Remember – every little bit counts.

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