By Kahi Pacarro
Strategically choosing the side of the plane this time was not to scope the surf setup but rather for reconnaissance on an upcoming plastic pollution mission. On final approach to Lihue Airport, those on the left hand side of the plane see Unalau Bay bombarded with plastic pollution. It has remained like this for over a decade and despite the hard work of groups like Niumalu Canoe Club and the Surfrider Foundation the eyesore remained because the debris was too copious and too difficult to remove.
For Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, seeing the job through to the end is integral to our mission. When our plan to remove the debris from the coastline and transport it back to the harbor during or Unalau Bay cleanup in January was deemed too dangerous, we were crushed. We can’t thank the Adopt Na Pali Crew and the other epic locals enough for the kokua, but that day the ocean had a different idea. The swell was way too big and it quickly became apparent that using the jet skis and boats for beach removal would be impossible.
As we departed Kauai in January after cleaning with 250 volunteers and amassing 50 super sacks still remaining on the coastline, we knew our job was not done. When Timbers Resort Hokuala Kauai and Jack Harter Helicopters offered to assist in the costs to remove the debris, we jumped on the next plane to see the job to the end. It had been six months since we cleaned the bay but we were back to finish the job.
The first morning greeted us with cloudy skies, howling Tradewinds, and intermittent downpours. To get to Unalau Bay you cross the channel at Nawiliwili Harbor then hike in a mile. Once there you’re blessed with false seclusion until you notice the obvious evidence of humanity and the hourly Hawaiian Air flyby. Twice daily, the ocean delivers another load of plastic pollution made up of everyday household items and the detritus of the commercial fishing industry. The Bay acts as a catcher’s mitt for pollution as the Trade Winds sweep across the surface of the ocean with a direct perpendicular angle to the boulder lined coastline.
With the rain coming down, our rides across Nawiliwili Harbor to the other side began falling through. The Coast Guard refused, favors were being called in, and a suggestion to use the local Harbor troll or legend (depends on who you ask) became a real option. For a few bucks and beer he might be able to take us across, but would he ever show up to bring us back? Luckily a favor came through and the Kauai Yacht Club let us use their spare dinghy.
With a tiny engine and questionable watertight hull, we attacked an onslaught of brown colored onshore chop at full throttle. With our landing spot in sight and the water level inside the boat rising, we imagined the Coast Guard looking on through their binoculars giggling and shaking their heads. Any thoughts of making it across dry quickly dissipated and the next thoughts were more about just making it across at all. Survival wasn’t the issue, but we had been just lent this boat and would have felt terrible if it sunk. The Coast Guard would have saved us, but the boat made it across.
Bushwhacking from where we left the boat to Unalau Bay could have been easier, but we forgot the machetes on the dock at the Yacht Club. The sea spray stung as it penetrated the barely visible slices from the head high California grass we were forced to trod through. Out of the grass and into the Bay, our destination had been reached. Over the next few hours we bagged up the rest of the debris washed ashore since our cleanup in January and then daisy chained them with the remaining super sacks in pairs of five.
Returning back to civilization was pretty easy. A track had been trodden, the wind was now at our backs and the waves were no longer lapping over the bow. Without the need to buy the Yacht Club a new boat and the ability to use it again the next day, we considered the day a huge success. Arriving back up to Hokuala Kauai, we cracked a few beers and enjoyed the unique resort perched on the edge of the cliff at Kalapaki Bay. Legitimately beyond our financial capability to stay at this resort, the gratitude we felt of getting to experience it was only matched by the gratitude of the staff in appreciation for what we were there to do.
The next day, Jack Harter Helicopters donated a full hour of their time, equivalent to thousands of dollars, to remove the debris from Unalau Bay to the Hokuala Kauai property. From there, our partners from Surfrider Kauai, Jillian Wenderlich aka @jillyfish, Hokuala staff, and our crew loaded up the trucks. Ocean plastics were saved for our recycling program and the remainder was prepared to be burnt for energy on Oahu. None of the debris was going to burden Kauai ever again. The job was done, until the next high tide.