What’s causing plastic shards to litter Waikiki waters?

Always Investigating

HONOLULU (KHON2) — There is something in the waters off Waikiki and it is not sitting well with some beachgoers.

Always Investigating tries to find the source.

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A concerned beachgoer brought them to KHON’s attention: black, plastic flecks that are popping up and floating all over parts of Waikiki Beach. He thought it could be connected to the sand dredging operation that recently started, so KHON went down to take a look. Could there be a connection?

Greg Misakian could not wait to get outside and enjoy the beach and the ocean after moved back to Hawaii, but something he had never seen before started popping up all over in the Waikiki waves.

“As I went in, I looked down, and I could see black particles everywhere floating around,” Misakian said, “and I wasn’t sure what they were, you know, very dark, black particles.”

He scooped up some to show what he meant. There were little chunks of some kind of plastic or rubber.

“I spoke to one of the lifeguards, and the lifeguard told me it was coming from the dredging equipment,” Misakian said.

Dredging started recently to replenish 20,000 cubic yards of sand at an estimated cost of $3 to $4 million. It has been taking place from an offshore barge through a pipeline to a pile near the Kuhio Beach and Diamond Head swim basin.

“What I’m hearing from the surfers out at Queens — these are the youth that surf out there on a daily basis all day long — they’re frustrated, it’s disgusting,” said Kahi Pacarro, director of Parley For The Oceans, which aims to keep plastic out of waterways. “And they realize that necessity for a beach to be in existence there. But there’s got to be a better way.”

KHON reached out to the company in charge of the project to ask about it and to find out what the state was doing after following up.

A spokesperson told Always Investigating: “DLNR Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands staff [last] Friday toured the area on the pipeline and could find no evidence of black plastic anywhere. They also spoke with the lifeguard at the Kuhio Beach, Ewa Basin Tower, where the pipe comes in, and he said that he had not seen anything and that there was no black plastic in the water. They also spoke with the lifeguard at the Police Station Tower, and he said he saw no plastic. The area looked fine to OCCL staff.”

“I think this should go back down there. First off, I really respect DLNR. They do a really great job in enforcement and in managing our natural resources. So, I really respect what they do. But I would like them to go back down to take a look,” Pacarro said. “And here’s one of the more pressing reasons why they’re not finding it: the plastic was washing in when we had the south winds. Currently, we have trade winds that blow directly offshore, so the vast majority of any plastics that enter our waters on in Waikiki gets blown out to sea.”

This dredging project comes nearly a decade after the last big job that brought in 24,000 cubic yards of offshore sand. There were no plastic complaints back then.

“As a regular surfer of that area during the last dredging, I did not recognize that issue,” Pacarro said. “I did not see it.”

There is so much of it — depending on the day — this time around and it can even take on a plume-like appearance.

“Yesterday was the worst I had seen. And yesterday was kind of a little bit stormy weather, not so much raining, but it was very windy,” Misakian told KHON last on March 26. “So when I went into the water to get the sample, I could see plumes of it, basically like little oil slicks everywhere on the ocean surface. But it was intermixed dramatically. It did increase maybe three times from the first thing I saw, maybe four times worse.”

“I’m an environmentalist, so when we see items like this, we look for the most obvious source. That [dredging] tends to be the obvious source in this situation,” Pacarro said. “I think in this case, it’s up to [the contractor] to prove that it’s not their product. And we need to work with our regulators to make sure that if it’s coming from there, we do what we need to make sure that this doesn’t continue to happen.”

While KHON was there looking at the plastic and the piping components, the pipe itself at the rock wall area near the ocean burst forth a splat of sand and water, just after a father and young daughter had passed through the roped area at the pipe separation. A tender brought a workman over to close it up soon after.

“The pipe is not broken,” DLNR explained. “It just gets floated periodically due to clogging and trying to clear the clogging.”

KHON followed up to ask if it is standard practice for them to do the unclogging during the day while the beach is heavily in use and will report if there are changes to the hours or methods of operation for public safety.

KHON will also continue to follow up with the contractor about whether they can trace the plastic to any parts of the dredging work and with the state on what more can be done to track the plastic source and take care of it.

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