Why these young Kiwis have their hands full in Hawaii
Agroup of young Kiwis have taken their crusade to clean up beaches to Hawaii.
They’re part of the weekend’s global effort to pick up some of the eight million tonnes of rubbish that is estimated to be dumped into oceans and waterways.
At the James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge, eight young Kiwis are picking up trash. They’ve been selected by a New Zealand non-profit group, the Sea Cleaners, for a week-long stay in Hawaii, with the help of Hawaiian Airlines and the Hawaiian Tourism Organisation.
They’ve come at a good time. During the last fortnight Hawaii’s coast has taken a pasting from Hurricane Lane and a near-miss from Tropical Storm Olivia, throwing up swells and rubbish from around the Pacific on to its beautiful beaches.
At the refuge, there are seals and birds, including New Zealand-bound godwits.
The Kiwis are mainly school-age volunteers from the upper North Island and from a variety of backgrounds. And what they’ve seen during the past few days has been an eye-opener.
The northeast tip of Hawaii can be a magnet for swell but also buoys, nets and traps from fishing boats, right down to the tiny nurdles — tiny beads of plastic raw material.
Charlie Thomas, 16, from Red Beach, has been cleaning beaches for more than three years. With the other Sea Cleaners, she’s been collecting up to 10 cubic metres a day from the reserve. She’s seen a Hawaiian monk seal in a nest of plastic but couldn’t go near the animal.
“Coming here for the first time and not being able to leave with all of the plastic is one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever done,” she said. “It’s been such a raw and emotional experience.”
During this week, the Sea Cleaners will do a series of clean-ups in conjunction with non-government organisations, schools and other community groups.
About an hour further south on the US state’s most populous island, Hawaiian Airlines’ director of community relations, Debbie Nakanelua-Richards is with the carrier’s “Team Kokua” at Waimanalo Beach picking up trash. The 200-plus team of volunteers are from different parts of the airline and working with others from the Bank of Hawaii and the Sustainable Coastlines organisation.
The beach clean-up is special. There’s a deep spiritual tie to the ocean — Hawaiians have been master navigators through the ages and its royals started surfing 1000 years ago.
“We’re surrounded by ocean — it’s extremely powerful — it’s a part of our existence here in these islands — it’s healing, it’s inspiring, it’s reflective of the people who got here before,” says Nakanelua-Richards, a former Miss Hawaii who’s been with the airline for nearly 40 years.
“The ocean is really special to all island people.”
Waimanalo Beach is a tree-fringed 6km strip of white sand. But look more closely and you see insidious microplastics that have to be sieved from the sand.
“We have to eliminate those things from our lifestyle. Then one day, hopefully, we will go to the beach and enjoy it, not have to clean it up. We look at visitors and welcome them into our home. It’s really important for them to come to a place that is not only really safe but is free of debris.”
The east-facing shore or windward side of Hawaii is where much of the debris washes up. Co-founder and executive director of Sustainable Coastlines Kahi Paccaro says most of it comes from fishing boats out catching to sustain what he says is Hawaii’s insatiable appetite for poke — raw tuna.
Paccaro, a surfer, describes the microplastics as being like “plastic confetti” — hard to spot unless it’s clinging to your feet.
On the snaky coastal drive between Team Kokua and the Sea Cleaners, you pass Kualoa Ranch, Hollywood’s “backlot of Hawaii,” where movies and TV shows, including Hawaii Five0, Lost, Kong: Skull Island and Jumanji have been filmed.
Sea Cleaners leader Hayden Smith has a sea skippers ticket and was a pioneer of a commercial marine litter collection concept in Auckland City since 2002.
He has more than 15 years’ experience on the water as a contractor to the Watercare Harbour Clean-Up Trust and has directed the co-ordination of more than 130,000 volunteer hours.
Set up more than 15 years ago, Sea Cleaners has been scooping up rubbish from North Island waterways and beaches, removing 41 million different pieces of trash ranging from $20 notes to a bottle of mercury.
He helped select those on the Hawaii mission. Besides Charlie Thomas there are Ede Bird, from Michael Park School, Riley Hathaway from Matakana College, Cee Jay Maitai who went to Mangere College, Joe McLoughlin from Kelston Boy’s High School, John Commissaris now at Otago University, Laith Hammond from Kings College, and Te-Ariki Waipouri-Rerekura from the Far North.
New Zealand’s Consul General in Honolulu, Karena Lyons, is also involved. She says it is a way of sharing this country’s environmental values. She wants to see the Sea Cleaners model in other island nations including Palau and the Marshall Islands. “Bit by bit, beach by beach we’ll clean up the Pacific.”
The Herald travelled courtesy of Hawaiian Airlines and the Hawaiian Tourism Organisation
Charlie Thomas, 16, from Red Beach, Auckland.
Hawaiian Airlines’ Debbie NakaneluaRichards helps the youngsters during the clean-up project at Waimanalo Beach, Hawaii.