A nonprofit conservation organization sent nearly 12 tons of accumulated marine waste to Oahu earlier this month after volunteers scoured Ka‘u beaches for pollution.
Ten volunteers from the Hawaii Wildlife Fund gathered 11.6 tons of seaborne waste from Ka‘u shores before shipping it March 4 to Oahu for recycling.
Megan Lamson, Hawaii Wildlife Fund program director, said the accumulated garbage filled a shipping container — the 10th shipping container filled since the fund started gathering waste in 2005 — and was the group’s largest load yet.
“There’s still a lot left there on the beach, though, and there’s more washing up possibly daily,” Lamson said.
The Hawaii Wildlife Fund has removed approximately 260 tons of waste from Hawaii Island in the past 22 years, Lamson said. About 43 percent of that weight comes from masses of tangled rope and nets that wash up onto the island’s shores.
Since 2005, the organization has sent the remains of net masses — 106,000 pounds in total — to Oahu as part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Nets-to-Energy program, which burns the nets to create usable electricity. The program has burned more than 800 tons of rope and nets since 2002.
“Our mission is always to protect native wildlife,” Lamson said. “These nets present serious entanglement hazards.”
In particular, net masses are significantly dangerous to large marine life such as the endangered Hawaiian monk seal and humpback whale, both large mammals that are drawn to the smaller sea life surrounding net masses, only to become entangled and ultimately suffocate.
The Hawaii Wildlife Fund last sent a Nets-to-Energy container in April 2017 and removed more than 60,000 pounds of waste from Hawaii Island shores last year alone.
But while net masses are, by far, the heaviest of the waste the HWF retrieves, the vast majority of the garbage is smaller and plastic.
Lamson said the Wildlife Fund conducted several beach surveys around the island since 2016 which determined that, of the approximately 2,300 pieces of debris found in a 100-meter stretch of beach, 93 percent (or 2,070 pieces) are plastic.
“You can always find some treasures or something interesting — we found a surfboard once — but the problem is it’s all man-made,” Lamson said. “The more we learn about it, the more frightening it is.”
Lamson said debris from eastern Asia still regularly washes up onto Hawaii’s shores, but said it is harder to determine whether it was debris swept out to sea by the 2011 Tohoku, Japan, tsunami — which washed an estimated 5 million tons of debris into the ocean — or other, more recent debris that circled around the North Pacific Gyre several times.
Lamson was one of 28 delegates from Hawaii who attended the International Marine Debris Conference in San Diego last week, which featured speakers and panels discussing reducing plastic consumption, the effects of microplastics on marine life and more.
On March 3, the Wildlife Fund hosted a volunteer cleanup at Kamilo Point in Ka‘u, where 46 volunteers removed 2,690 pounds of debris from the beach.
Lamson said enough waste is left in Ka‘u that another container likely can be filled before the end of the year.
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Residents can report large-scale marine debris by calling the state Department of Land and Natural Resources’ debris hotline at 587-0405 or the Hawaii Wildlife Fund’s marine debris hotline at 769-7629.