KAUNAKAKAI, Moloka’i, Hawaii, January 13, 2021 (ENS) – In the Hawaiian Islands, the past year was plagued with travel and gathering limitations due to COVID-19, yet The Nature Conservancy’s Hawaii Chapter and partners were able to remove more than 46,000 pounds of marine debris from Moloka’i’s remote beaches in the last quarter of 2020 alone.
On the island of Moloka’i, smallest and most remote of the main Hawaiian islands, The Nature Conservancy Hawaii’s Mo‘omomi Preserve and its adjoining beaches are home to rich coastal marine life, culturally-important fishing grounds on which local families rely, and some of Hawaii’s most important nesting habitat for endangered green sea turtles.
Mo`omomi Preserve, located on Moloka’i’s north shore, is a last stronghold of a major Hawaiian coastal ecosystem, says the Conservancy.
The dunes of Mo`omomi were once home to at least 30 bird species, at least 10 of which have since become extinct, including a sea eagle, a Grallistrix or stilt owl, a flightless ibis, and a giant flightless duck.
Today, the Hawaiian owl (pueo in Hawaiian) is one of the few native land birds that can still be seen at Mo`omomi. Native shorebirds, like sanderlings and plovers, and seabirds, like the great frigatebird (‘iwa) and the wedge-tailed shearwater (‘ua’u kani), can also be seen along the shoreline.
“Over time, most of Hawaii’s native beaches have been lost to coastal development,” says TNC Hawaii. Today, Mo`omomi Preserve, created in 1988, is the most intact beach and sand dune area in the main Hawaiian Islands.
But Mo‘omomi’s beaches are also a “hot spot” where thousands of pounds of marine debris, such as commercial fishing nets and plastic waste, wash in from all over the Pacific Ocean each year.
“We started cleaning the beaches more than 20 years ago,” says Wailana Moses, the Conservancy’s Moloka’i field coordinator. “This year, we were still able to remove a lot of marine debris in spite of COVID-19, thanks to our partners and community pulling together and doing the work in a safe, physically distant way.”
In the early years, volunteers and TNC staff carried all the waste out by hand on a grueling hike across the sand dunes of Mo‘omomi Preserve. Then it was loaded into trucks and taken to the local landfill.
That changed five years ago when the Maui County Department of Land and Natural Resources’ division of Native Ecosystems Protection & Management (NEPM) started helping with the beach cleanups and contributing helicopter time to haul the waste away.
Around the same time, Moloka’i high school student Kamiki Agliam reached out to Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii for help. With their support, marine debris is now gathered in large bags donated by ocean advocacy organization Parley, and shipped off-island in containers donated by shipping company Matson and Young Brothers. The bulk of that waste is burned at H-Power, O’ahu’s waste-to-power facility.
The most recent beach cleanup yielded 133 bags of marine debris, filling two 40-foot shipping containers. Over the last five years, cleanups filled eight such shipping containers, totaling about 368,000 pounds. That’s more than twice as heavy as the Space Shuttle, or about the weight of six adult humpback whales, Moses points out.
“I estimate we’ve removed almost one million pounds of marine debris from Moloka‘i’s coastlines over the last 20 years,” Moses says.
Marine debris can be commercial fishing gear such as gigantic fishing nets, buoys, buckets, traps and spacers; household items like bottles, pens, toothbrushes, lighters, light bulbs, food containers and laundry baskets; other trash like plastic tubs, tires and propane tanks; and microplastics, which are minuscule pieces of broken plastic items.
“Cleaning up marine debris is only a small part of what we do on Moloka’i to steward our lands and waters so that both people and nature can thrive,” says Ulalia Woodside, executive director of The Nature Conservancy, Hawaii.
“The marine debris problem is getting worse,” Woodside said, “so we’re grateful to have support from the community and partners on both cleanup and, perhaps more importantly, raising awareness on how to change our behavior so we all generate less waste.”