The problem of marine debris first entered the public consciousness in the USA, when Captain Charles Moore of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation sailed across the North Pacific Garbage Patch in the 1990s. Since then, most research on the phenomena of garbage patches have taken place in the North Pacific (although organisations such as 5 Gyres, to be written about next, are researching other gyres in the world). Right in the middle of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, as it is known, sits Hawaii, the southernmost and westernmost state of the US. It was here that the 5th International Marine Debris Conference took place, where LMV filmed in March 2011.
After the conference, LMV flew to the largest Hawaiian island, Big Island, to film what is commonly thought of as one of the world’s worst shorelines for plastic pollution, Kamilo Beach. We had met the Hawaii Wildlife Fund‘s Megan Lamson at the 5IMDC and she kindly organised for us to go to Kamilo with herself and another HWF member Stacey Breining. Kamilo is a stretch of coastline on the southeast corner of Big Island and its beaches receive a lot of plastic debris from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Prior to our trip down there, we interviewed Noni Sanford (pictured above), a beach cleanup volunteer who was among the first to start picking up the debris from the beach in the mid 80s. She said she was shocked about the amount of trash there was compared to the pristine coasts of when she first went down there in the 1950s. ‘It was 8-10ft deep in spots. We’d bring home some stuff but there was such a small amount of stuff we could pick up, it was really kind of defeating.’
When LMV went down to Kamilo with Megan and Stacey, thankfully, it wasn’t as bad, but that is solely down to the hard work of people like Noni and the HWF. What was shocking was the amount of micro-plastics in the sand. Megan explained that the average size of the plastic on the beach was decreasing over time, mostly due to frequent beach cleanups. But the smaller the pieces the harder they are to pick up. The HWF had devised a sieve-like flotation device that filtered the micro-plastics out of the sand. It was a long process though and it showed the dedication of the HWF team in protecting their shores. The problem was what to do with the plastic they took away with them. ‘We take the derelict fishing nets to the Waimea Transfer Station…until we have enough to fill up a 40ft maxi-container. They then ship it to Oahu, to H-Power plant where they burn it for electricity.’ Explained Stacey. ‘And then all the other trash goes to landfill. Unfortunately there isn’t any other option for us.’
The scale of the plastic pollution at Kamilo was vast and thanks to Megan and Stacey from the HWF we managed to collect some fascinating footage of just how extensive the problem of marine debris is in Hawaii. It is a pivotal sequence in Plastic Shores and the film would be lacking without it. We wish them every success in the future.