Hawaii is one of the most magical places on earth. With its stunning beaches, crystal clear waters, and abundant marine life, it's no wonder that millions of people visit this Pacific paradise every year. However, like many coastal regions, Hawaii is facing a growing problem with single-use plastics and other forms of marine debris that are washing up on its shores.
One of the biggest factors contributing to the accumulation of marine debris in Hawaii is ocean currents. Most of the plastic and debris found on the shores did not come from the Hawaiian Islands. The North Pacific Gyre is a large system of ocean currents that circulate in a clockwise direction across the Pacific Ocean, carrying with it vast amounts of marine debris, including single-use plastics. As these currents move closer to the west coast of North America and Hawaii, they converge, creating what is known as the Pacific Trash Vortex.
The Pacific Trash Vortex, or the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is a massive collection of marine debris, estimated to be roughly twice the size of Texas. This vortex is made up of floating plastics, fishing nets, and other types of debris that have been discarded or lost at sea. Unfortunately, a significant portion of this debris eventually makes its way to the sublime shores of Hawaii, where it can have devastating impacts on the local marine ecosystem.
The impacts of single-use plastics on Hawaii's coasts cannot be overstated. Plastic bottles, straws, and bags are among the most commonly found items on Hawaii's beaches. Not only does the accumulation of plastics on Hawaii's beaches detract from the natural beauty, these plastics are also dangerous. Plastics take hundreds of years to break down, harming wildlife that mistake them for food or become entangled in them. When the plastics do break down, they actually break up into millions of nano and micro plastics floating freely through the water cycle, and eventually ingested by animals and even humans.
Fortunately, steps are being taken to address this problem. In recent years, Hawaii has taken significant steps to reduce its reliance on single-use plastics. In 2020, the state passed a law banning the use of single-use plastic bags in grocery stores, and in 2021, the use of plastic straws was also prohibited in many establishments. Additionally, many businesses and organizations in Hawaii are working to reduce their use of plastics and encourage others to do the same.
However, there is still lots of work to do. The issue of marine debris in Hawaii is a complex one, and solutions will require cooperation from individuals, businesses, and governments at all levels. While it may be tempting to use single-use plastics for their convenience, the impact of these items on Hawaii's coasts and the broader marine ecosystem is simply too great to ignore.
Hawaii's coasts are being negatively impacted by the currents that bring in marine debris, including single-use plastics, from the North Pacific Gyre. While the state has taken some steps to address this issue, more work is needed to reduce our reliance on single-use plastics and protect the natural beauty and wildlife of Hawaii's beaches for future generations.
Written and edited by Milo Keranen
Photography and graphic by Milo Keranen