Kamilo Beach — “Plastic Beach”
by Steven Chung
Near the southernmost point of Hawai’i Island and the United States lies Kamilo Beach. Due to the unique currents that run by the beach, it used to be a popular area for ancient Hawaiians to collect logs for their canoes. However, recently those same currents have been bringing much more than just logs. Kamilo Beach is known as one of the world’s dirtiest beaches for good reason. The entire beachfront is littered with all kinds of trash, including hairbrushes, cigarette lighters, and trash with labels from all corners of the world, including Korea and Russia.
You might ask why there is an abundance of trash on this particular beach compared to others. The answer lies in the subtropical convergence zones that circle the Hawaiian archipelago. The southeastern shore of the isle of Hawai’i lies relatively close to the Eastern Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean making it easy for stray pieces of garbage to float to the beach. Below are pictures I found on the Internet with the garbage piles evident.
I decided to see for myself what the beach looked like, and on the drive down, I prepared myself to not even be able to see the sand. It was a long 3-hour drive to the beach, with the last half hour punctuated by the violent shudders of our 4-Runner making it over the steep drops and large rocks. We had to stop several times to ask beachgoers for directions. As we neared the beach, I began to see trash dot the beachside and I told my dad “We must be nearing the beach.” Slowly but surely, the trash began to increase, but it was nothing remotely close what I had seen in pictures. Once more, my father and I stepped out of the car to ask for directions, and the people said that we had already arrived. I was shocked to see the stark difference between the pictures featured online and what was directly in front of me.
Walking around the beach, I noticed that most of what washed ashore was driftwood once more. Although I was not able to experience the magnitude of what the beach was once like, I was happy to learn about the efforts to clean the beach. According to Megan Lamson, President of the Hawaii Wildlife Fund, the organization which spearheads the most of the beach cleaning, have removed over 270 tons of trash since 2003 and 27 tons in 2018 alone. It is a primarily volunteer-driven endeavor with over 40,000 documented hours so it is truly a community effort.
With that being said, there is still a lot of trash on Hawaii’s beaches and our efforts shouldn’t cease just because the situation is improving. Each person can do their part by not littering, and picking up trash on the beach when they see it. Even though it may seem like a little thing, it makes a big difference. If you are interested in joining the recovery efforts, the contact information for the Hawaii Wildlife Fund is listed below.
HAWAI’I WILDLIFE FUND
Hawai’i Island Marine Debris Removal Hui
@wildhawaii – #keephawaiiwild
debris hotline 808/769-7629