Plastic Pollution, Expanded Polystyrene Foam
August 20 2013

Do you like sea turtles?

by Bill Hickman

Of course you like sea turtles, I think it's really hard not to like them.  I was in Hawaii over the weekend for the Surfrider Foundation Hawaii Chapters Conference and took an extra day to escape Waikiki and head up to the North Shore of Oahu.  It's a surfing mecca in the winter but the waves were flat, as is typical in the summer.  My main objective was to check out the plastic beach at Kahuku but I also felt inclined to search out some sea turtles.

The traffic jam on the two lane road signaled the spot.  Tourists flocked from all over view a few sea turtles and snorkel near them.  Fortunately, there were a couple of volunteers or conservationists helping to educate visitors and keep them a safe distance from the majestic creatures.  I asked the weight of one of the female turtles which was estimated at 250 pounds!  I saw the look of joy on so many people's faces and hope that joy adds appreciation of sea turtles and a desire to protect them.  I believe that when we can help protect creatures like sea turtles, it helps to protect the environment and humans in the long run.

About a dozen miles away, the coast takes a turn and faces northeast.  That is very significant because Hawaii is basically on the outer edge of the North Pacific Garbage Patch, which 'spits out' a small percentage of it's plastic pollution over time.  If a beach faces the right direction and/or ocean currents lead there, you can find enough plastic litter to shock you.  I took the short drive to Kahuku and was dismayed at what I saw.

It lived up to the expectations of 'Oahu's Plastic Beach', but it's always startling to see first hand.  At this beach near Kahuku on Monday the top items I saw were fishing gear (mainly rope and buoys), various types of polystyrene foam, water bottles and millions of indistinguishable pieces of plastic.  I did see some plastic bags and plastic film but unless they are tied into a knot, they seem to photodegrade into very small plastic bits relatively quick.

While talking to Surfrider Foundation legend Gordon LaBedz over the weekend about the Surfrider Kauai Chapter's 'Net Patrol' to collect derelict fishing nets, I asked about possible solutions.  Maybe requiring some sort of tagging so people can be held responsible or something else?  His response was simple, "Stop eating seafood."  A vegetarian diet is better for the environment in many ways and this is another example.  I don't personally have an issue with recreational fishing for dinner, but the long lines and gill nets of commercial fishing are designed to kill many fish and don't stop killing if/when they get lost.

The green sea turtles I spotted travel to the outer islands to breed and nest so you can only imagine the amount of plastic they encounter in their long lives.  Beyond eating better, the best ways to help are to get involved with your local Surfrider Chapter to help bring about change in your community.  Every County in Hawaii has a plastic bag ban so many of the chapters are pursuing polystyrene foam (EPS) food ware bans as the next step to help reduce plastic pollution.  What are you going to do to help reduce plastic where you live?