Small Talk

Microplastic debris pollutes Kailua Beach

December 21st, 2012

The winter sea currents have washed up a shocking amount of pollution on at least one Oahu beach. I was walking the length of Kailua Beach recently when the white sands became lined with ugly plastic pollution.

Kailua Beach microplastic debris- December 2012

Kailua Beach microplastic debris- December 2012

There was a 50 yard swath of shoreline between the Kailua Beach parking lot and the Kalama Beach access lane, thick with brightly colored bits of plastic. Too bad this isn't the section in front of the President's rental, because that's going to get cleaned up in a jiffy.

From a purely aesthetic point, it was almost pretty, since most of it was uniformly broken into fishtank-gravel-sized pieces, and the predominant colors were green, blue, and white. From an environmental standpoint, it was horrifying.


There was a lot on the sand, and a lot more where that came from. I went to the water to wash the sand off my hand and little bits of plastic generously floated around.


There was another woman- Janice- who had stopped to look at it, as well. We started talking. We saw a turtle in the water, and she had additionally seen crabs trying to eat the plastic.


We talked about letting an environmental group know about it, but that felt stupid, talking about getting other people do so something about it when we could do something ourselves. She was also concerned about working quickly because of the fear that the current would change and take the plastic back out to sea.

If not now, when? If not me, who?

We agreed to meet the following morning with garbage bags. We divided up some rough tasks to get in touch with at least one beach cleanup group, because it would be nice to have more people help.

Courtesy Maile Akita

Courtesy Maile Akita

The next day, I dragged my friend Maile out with me, and we were rewarded with this beautiful double rainbow. We bumped into a woman who had seen the shout-out for help on a Facebook page. The three of us did not make quick work of it. In an hour, we cleaned only a 3 x 3 square foot section of land.

The sand was wet and so using the little sifters I brought were useless. The grains of sand wouldn't fall through it. The plastic pieces were so small, I ended up picking them up with my fingers.

Courtesy Maile Akita

Courtesy Maile Akita

I did not see Janice, but I think she had been out there, because as we left, I saw a lot of plastic debris in the garbage can.

Meanwhile, my e mail to Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii yielded me some information and good advice. According to Executive Director Kahi Pacarro, "Microplastic does come from the garbage patch. It is a result of plastic being broken down through the churning of currents, banging against other debris, sun degradation, animal ingestion, and more. If you want to be able to efficiently remove it, you need something like the picture attached. Or on a smaller level, a kitchen colander/strainer. Another trick is to fill a bucket with water and dump the stuff into it. The plastic will float, the sand will sink."

Sand sifters. Courtesy Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii

Sand sifters. Courtesy Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii

Pacarro told me to Like her group on Facebook to get updates on future cleanups. Meanwhile, my fellow Honolulu Star-Advertiser blogger, features reporter Nina Wu, gave me more names I'd like to share with you:

Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii -

The Surfrider Foundation-

Adopt A Beach-, which organizes beach cleanups on a regular basis

Plastic Free Kailua-

"But you don't have to be part of any group to pick up plastic debris - anyone can do it!" Wu encouraged.

"Microplastic is going to continually wash upon our shores for most likely, the rest of our lives," warned Pacarro, whose call to action is for people to please reduce their own use of single-use plastics and getting others to do so.

I myself try not to take more than I need- with anything and everything. With plastics, I shop with canvas bags, decline plastic bags for my takeout containers, carry a travel mug in my car in case I want to buy a drink, and generally just try to opt for any non-plastic alternative where possible. People are always surprised when I prefer to walk off with something in my hand than put it in the plastic bag they're offering, but maybe one day it will be normal and natural for folks.

In general, I don't take things just because they're on sale or free. It takes energy and resources to make a product, and more resources to discard it. If I think I'm not really going to appreciate something, I don't buy or accept it. The bonus is that it is one less dust-collector to take up space in my house.

Marine debris is everyone's problem. Let's all do what we can to take care of the Earth!

4 Responses to “Microplastic debris pollutes Kailua Beach”

  1. kuunakanaka:

    aloha Diane:

    I will do my part to take care the Earth.

  2. Ken Conklin:

    Thank you Diane for publishing this essay. We all have kuleana to malama ka 'aina. You went far out of your way, investing a large amount of time and effort to clean up an extremely small portion of Kailua Beach.

    In the end, the work you did on the beach made almost no difference to what would be needed to clean up the whole mess. But then you wrote this column which will be read by thousands of people in Hawaii and throughout the world.

    Your actual work on the beach gives credibility to your sincerity and shows us all an example of how to carry out our responsibility to respect and protect the environment. But publication of this essay has a much larger practical effect in educating people and thereby helping prevent such pollution in the future. As we often hear, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure (also, a stitch in time saves nine).

    The work you did on the beach is therapeutic for you, as it helps you feel that you have done something about a problem you see literally at your feet. But the work you have done in this column is a more important contribution toward resolving the problem, even though you might never have the enjoyment of seeing any actual results from it. As we often hear, the pen is mightier than the sword.

  3. Diane Ako:

    Ken, Thanks. I'm touched by your comments.

  4. M:

    Hello Diane,
    When I go standup paddling in the open ocean, I see plastic bags and I make an effort to pick it up and put it in my pocket.

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