By Kahi Pacarro
Summer conjures visions of relaxation, peace and sun, but this summer has been more about escaping obsessive heat and trying to find relief from the lack of summer swell by groveling in ankle slappers.
For some, a surf trip far away to the southern hemisphere resulted in a bounty of perfect waves and tourist-free beaches this summer. For those of us left behind, the dream of getting away remained out of reach. Yet, millions of tourists got away to Hawaii this summer. Not only is Hawaii the getaway in the vacation context; Hawaii is also away in the physical realm as the final destination of mankind’s garbage as a result of overconsumption, poor waste management and industry’s externalities.
The irony I’m trying to reinforce here is that although people see Hawaii as away, the Pacific Ocean does too. As if a call for help falling on deaf ears, the ocean shows us at every high tide that when we throw something away, it could end up on a beach in Hawaii. Trash that floats downstream into the Pacific Ocean gets into the gyre, is broken up into smaller pieces and is then regurgitated onto Hawaii’s eastern coastlines. The gyre is similar to a baby albatross facing a similar issue, regurgitating the plastic that was force fed to it by its parents.
Before the madness of the Winter surf season arrives and while we still have time to kill, we at Sustainable Coastlines want you to experience the other side of away: the beaches that need your help. Despite the polluted beach photos you’ve seen on @sustainablecoastlineshawaii and elsewhere, the magnitude of our situation is not truly understood until you see it firsthand.
Here’s a list of beaches across our Island chain you can visit, along with organizations that are aiming to make a difference. So grab a bag, a reusable water bottle, some reef-friendly sunscreen and get away.
Hawaii Island – Kamilo Beach / Hawaii Wildlife Fund / www.hawaiiwildlifefund.org / @wildhawaii
Hop into a 4×4 and venture down to the Southernmost point of the United States at Ka Lae. If you’ve got the balls, jump off the cliff for a refreshing dip. From there, head left and enter Hawaiian Home Lands and past Green Sands Beach. This multiple hour journey through a lava desert ends at Kamilo Beach. There you will witness what was once called the dirtiest beach in the world.
Maui – Kaehu Beach / Sharkastics / www.sharkastics.org
Just a quick ride from the airport, this is Maui’s dirtiest stretch of coastline. Head towards Waiehu and stop short at Kaehu Beach. For those that like driftwood, this is your spot. But mixed amongst it is a nauseating amount of plastic regurgitated by the North Pacific Gyre.
Molokai – Mo’omomi Beach / The Nature Conservancy / @tnchawaii / nature.org
From Ho’olehua, head down the red dirt road to the pavilion. Park there and hike left towards Mo’omomi Beach. One of the only accessible beaches on the entire North Shore of Molokai, the beach is home to nesting sea turtles and basking monk seals.
Lanai – Shipwreck Beach / Pulama Lanai / www.pulamalanai.com
Down a long arduous road, lined with stunted brush due to the strong tradewinds, a left at the bottom, and you’ll eventually end up at Shipwreck Beach. For similar reasons to the abundant amount of debris, this coastline is also littered with Shipwrecks.
Oahu – Kahuku Beach / Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii / @sustainablecoastlineshawaii / www.sustainablecoastlineshawaii.org
Take a walk along Kahuku Beach from Kahuku Golf Course along the James Campbell Wildlife Refuge and end at Marconi Road. Recent reintroductions of Albatross and decoys meant to attract other Albatross give an additional opportunity to see the largest flying animal in the world. This is Oahu’s dirtiest stretch of beach but yet not a soul in sight.
Kauai – Donkey Beach / Surfrider Foundation / @surfriderkauai / www.surfriderfoundation.org
The Garden Isle snags so many commercial fishing nets that there is a weekly net patrol hosted by Surfrider Foundation. If you can’t join them on their Wednesday journeys, then hit up Donkey Beach and have your mind blown by what the North Pacific Gyre has done to the remnants of the the plastics we threw away. Ground up as if through a blender, the plastic looks like confetti and is just as difficult to cleanup.
While away, you’re going to find items that you use in your everyday lives. If you use less, or eliminate use altogether, it will mean less debris getting the chance of ever choking our ocean and ending up on our beaches.
The locations of the state’s dirtiest beaches are not the easiest to access. Yet, if you were to venture to the opposite sides of the island, you’ll find resorts, pristine beaches, wealth and ignorance to the plight of away.
Out of sight, out of mind and a full throttle mentality around consumption, it seems like we still have a long way to go. Would we be in such ignorant bliss if the winds switched for good and the debris started washing up in Waikiki, Wailea, Waikaloa, Lahaina, Manele Bay or Kaunakakai?
Kahi Pacarro is the Executive Director of Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii.