POSTED: 21 JANUARY 2007 - 11:00am HST

The sand, the sun, the sea, the squalor

An unusually large quantity of plastic washed up at Poli Hale in 1/2004. It happened again in 12/2006

by Steve Benjamin on 21 January 2007
Below is great article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune by a visitor that stumbled into our past beach clean up at Moloa'a Beach.

The Surfrider Foundation Kauai Chapter had a good turnout yesterday at our clean up on Aliomanu beach, mahalo nui loa to those who showed up and helped. We filled three pickup trucks with trash and marine debris.

We will let you know where the next clean up is and look forward to an even better turn out.

[Editor's Note: When my daughter was little we used to walk the nearby beach in Fairfield Connecticut and pick up bits of plastic litter. As we walked we sang our own lyric to the children's song 'The Itsy Bitsy Spider"

The little bits of plastic were strewn along the beach.
Laura picked them up with her long long reach.
She picked up an punk one and picked up a orange one,
and put them on her windowsill to make a rainbow.

Singing the song made a sad and tragic event a bit of a game. I'm thankful there are others who like to play.]

by Chris Welsch on 19 January 2007 in The Minneapolis Star Tribune

On the first day of my vacation on Kauai in December, I went for a walk on the beach near the house that my wife and I had rented.

The spot was everything I'd hoped for: A two-minute walk down a dirt road led to Moloa'a Bay, fringed by an inviting crescent of pale yellow sand, deep and soft under my bare feet.

One unpleasant detail compromised the scene. A baffling display of ugliness sprawled along the tide line: water bottles, milk crates, fishing buoys, netting, plastic bags, a barrel-sized clump of orange plastic rope and, scattered everywhere, a fine confetti of broken-up plastic chips.

By any standard, Kauai is remote, thousands of miles from the nearest continent in any direction. Where did this stuff come from?

The answer stunned me. It came all the way from Mexico, the continental United States, Alaska, Taiwan, Japan and China. Some was dumped off of recreational and commercial ships, but most of it came from individuals who littered, be it by the side of the road or on the beach. Plastic takes hundreds of years to decompose, meaning that all the plastic ever made still exists somewhere. A lot of it is floating in the Pacific.

"We're at a juncture of convergence zones that create this massive gyre that collects trash," said Paul Tannenbaum. "Some of it ends up on our beaches."
Tannenbaum is a founder of the Kauai chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, an international nonprofit group that advocates for clean oceans and public access (both near and dear to surfers).

Marine scientists refer to that gyre Tannenbaum mentioned as the "Great Eastern Garbage Patch" -- a floating dump that's twice the size of Texas, and by one account is awash with 3 million tons of debris. Slowly circulating currents act like a global drain tornado, slowly drawing trash dumped off the coasts toward its center.

The main Hawaiian islands and the chain of small sea islands to their west act like a giant comb at the fringes of the gyre, collecting bits of floating plastic from all over the world, Tannenbaum said.
'Trash travels'

Depressingly, it wasn't the first time I had encountered unexpected trash in an isolated place. The Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve, about 120 miles south of Cancun, has miles and miles of undeveloped coastline that is littered with junk that has floated from cruise ships, the Caribbean Islands, South America and Africa. In addition to being unsightly and unhygienic for people, plastic trash kills seabirds, fish and turtles that mistake it for food. In popular areas, beach hotels and resorts clean their beaches each morning, so most travelers never know the extent of the problem.

"Trash travels," said Tom McCann, a spokesman for the Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit that advocates for clean seas. "You end up with these enormous floating trash piles that bring garbage to every shore. About 80 percent of it is from land-based sources."

It's tempting, living in Minnesota, to consider the problem somebody else's. But water connects everything, regardless of where we live.

"Drop a cigarette butt out the window, it washes from the street into a sewer, from there into a stream, then a river, then the ocean," McCann said. "The good thing about the problem is that so much of it stems from personal behavior, and that's one of the easiest problems to solve."

To that end, every cigarette butt, every plastic shopping bag and every plastic bottle matters. Just ask Tannenbaum, who this month will be out picking up the globe's garbage again.

"I moved here a couple of years ago from California; I was astounded by the trash, and that some of it was coming from my home state," he said. "We started the Surfrider chapter nine months ago when we saw that nobody was picking it up. We do volunteer cleanup days once a month. It's a little thing, but I feel like at least we're doing something."

Aside from the obvious (don't litter and limit use of disposable plastic items), there are plenty of opportunities to learn more and volunteer.

Start with the Ocean Conservancy, which organizes a global coastal cleanup each fall. This year it's September 16th. In Minnesota, Lake Superior benefits from the effort.

For more information on the scope of the problem, this website is an eye-opener.

When in Hawaii, consider joining the Surfrider Foundation for a day of your vacation cleaning up the mess. The website will link you to the local chapters. Kauai's number for information on cleanup days is 1-808-828-1147.

The plastic garbage pit of the Pacific
by Jane Kay, on 6 November 2006 in The San Francisco Chronicle

Trash particles, looking like food, imperil sea life. Plastic trash caught up in a swirling vortex in the North Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii is killing sea life, choking birds and fish and entangling seals and sea lions, a new Greenpeace report says.

Soda six-pack rings, plastic bags, condoms, beach toys and stray nets -- much of it washed off U.S. shores and some tossed directly into the ocean -- float in a mix of plastic pollution that injures hungry animals as big as whales and as small as zooplankton, according to a report by the international environmental group.
Scientists traveling aboard the Greenpeace vessel Esperanza said Sunday they now are gathering firsthand data on threats to the world's oceans from pollution, overfishing and whaling. As part of that investigation, they released the report, a compilation of studies published since 1990 on plastics in the marine environment.

The current research examines plastic as it weathers into particles the size of sand grains, so small they become part of the tissue of ocean organisms.
"These small fragments of plastics may pose more of a threat to marine life because they resemble the prey of lots of organisms -- everything from zooplankton to whales,'' said Adam Walters, a chemist speaking by telephone aboard the vessel and an author of the report.

These bits can fill the stomachs of birds and other sea creatures that mistake them for food, causing malnutrition and eventually starvation. The researchers are measuring the distribution of the particles as they that float or fall to the ocean floor.

This latest report on plastic accumulating in the North Pacific comes just three days after a study in the journal Science concluded that, if trends continue, the world's fish stocks are headed for severe depletion by 2050 as a result of global warming, fishing and pollution.

The Esperanza, headed for San Diego, is conducting research in a Texas-sized patch of ocean called the North Pacific Gyre near the northwestern Hawaiian Islands. As winds and currents circulate clockwise in the oceans, this area stays calm in the summer and becomes a collection basin for plastics and other litter.
Over the past three decades, marine biologists have found plastic bags blocking the digestive tracts of sea lions, discarded fishing line strangling sea turtles and nets cutting off the flippers of manatees.

The research on micro-particles is new.

Since last March, scientists on the Esperanza have sampled plastic particles in the Mediterranean, North Atlantic, Red Sea, Indian Ocean and near the Philippines. Next come the Sea of Cortez and the South Pacific.

Thilo Maack, a marine biologist with Greenpeace in Hamburg, Germany, also speaking from the ship, said he has been diving for samples.

"Between the plankton, you see the red, yellow and all colored plastics floating. We find the plastic in the tissues of animals. For us, this is a very worrying signal,'' because it could be accumulating in the food web, Maack sad.
They often find "ghost nets,'' abandoned floating nets filled with fish.

"The marine mammals try to feed on these fishes, and get entangled in ropes and loose net parts. Eventually they drown because they can't get to the surface,'' Maack said.

The report, which doesn't contain the results of the research on micro-plastic, offers solutions.

Floating plastic debris can be cut worldwide by cleaning beaches, reducing garbage in storm drains, improving the handling and transport of raw pellet and other plastic materials, and adopting an international treaty prohibiting vessels from dumping trash at sea, according to the report.

The ultimate solution lies in policies that allow the use of plastics and synthetics only in cases where they are absolutely necessary, it said.

Other findings in the report compiled by Greenpeace are as follows:
-- At least 267 different species, including 111 species of seabirds, are known to have suffered from entanglement or ingestion of plastic rubbish.

-- Plastics consistently make up 60 to 80 percent of all marine debris. The seabed, particularly near coasts, is littered with plastic bags.

-- About 80 percent of the plastic in the ocean washes in from rivers, storm drains, beaches, sewage treatment plants and other sources; about 20 percent gets dumped in the ocean from vessels and fishing boats.

-- Much of the plastic litter in oceans comes from derelict fishing debris, since plastic and other synthetic materials have replaced natural fibers over the past 35 years.

see alsot he Greenpeace report at

and from Natural History magazine

for aminaion of the North Pacific Gyre

See also article in on ocean trash at

Austrailian Government concern