‘A`ohe hua o ka mai`a i ka lā ho’okaāhi
When a task is done together, no task is too big
Last week’s stormy weather may have already moved on, but its residue has continued to wash ashore.
Anyone who has gone to Kailua Beach lately has noticed it: gentle breakers lapping up to a neat, organized streak of oceanic trash stretching down the shoreline. Large flotsam is often picked up by early-morning beach walkers, but it’s the innumerable tiny pieces of debris that pose the real problem.
On Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, Kailua resident Jason Hills set out to do what he does nearly every day — clean his hometown beach.
“I go down there every morning at sunrise, and there’s a big group of people who walk the beach everyday and pick stuff up. By 7 in the morning all the big stuff is off the beach, but the microplastic is a tougher thing to tackle,” Hills said.
A microplastic is exactly what it sounds like: a small bit of plastic less than five millimeters long. Microplastics not only turn the shoreline into clumpy sand-gravel and cause an eyesore for beachgoers; they’re also a potential hazard for birds and marine life — as well as any human who ingests marine life. Whenever you eat seafood, there’s a good chance you’re eating microplastics as well.
“It never stops happening,” Hills said. “It comes every high tide. Every big wind event we have, we get tons and tons of plastics. We had really strong winds all last week and throughout the weekend, then a couple really high tide days as well.” The intersection of sea storms and high tides results in beaches lined with debris, but there’s also a silver lining. “It makes it real easy to get it all, because it all ends up at the high tide line. So we’re able to get tons of stuff really quickly.”
That’s exactly what happened.
Hills went down to the beach to clean up a little bit on his own. He previously worked with Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, and has the proper sifting equipment to handle microplastics. But when he got to the shoreline and started setting up, he realized he wasn’t alone in his efforts.
“I went down there to clean up a spot and there was a kid there who was already doing the same thing. We joined forces and invited people to help,” said Hills. Soon, another six kids got involved, and the impromptu beach cleanup became a fine-tuned operation.
“We swept up everything with a regular kitchen broom into piles, put the piles into the sifter, then we used water buckets to wash the sand through.”
After only an hour or two, they had removed over 75 pounds of microplastics from the beach. Hills called it a testament to simple tools and manpower, underpinned by a sense of pride in one’s community and the basic decency to clean up a mess that you did not create, but still ended up belonging to you.
“We really try to maximize our effort when the plastics is like that. Gotta take advantage that it’s all in the same place. We try to get there before people are at the beach before the plastic gets smashed into the sand.”
Footage of their cleanup was posted on the My Kailua social media pages, but Hills and people like him can be found cleaning up their hometown beach on a near daily basis. Most of the time there are no cameras rolling.
“We’re not trying to be heroes. We’re just family and friends cleaning up our little spot. We do it for our own happiness. It feels good.”
What happened with all that microplastic poundage? Hills took it home.
“There are recycling places you can take it, marine debris dropoff centers. Theoretically it gets recycled and gets made into products. Personally, I just keep it and people find me on Instagram or Facebook and they want it on art projects or at a school to raise awareness.”