NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

Hawai’i Marine Debris Tours Europe

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By Cheryl King, Guest blogger

Every year, tons of marine debris from all over the Pacific Ocean funnels into Kaho‘olawe’s remote Kanapou Bay in Hawai’i.  Now, thanks to a lot of hard – but fun – work by more than 100 participants, Kanapou is now cleaner than it has ever been. And even better: some of the debris is now on display at a museum in a sobering exhibit on marine debris.

After receiving a generous grant from the NOAA Marine Debris Program, the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC) removed 31 tons of debris from Kanapou Bay during 10 cleanup trips (most were 2-3 night camp outs) in 2010-2011.

The debris was sorted and recycled when possible after being brought back to Maui by boat and helicopter: we sent 9.3 tons to the Maui landfill, shipped 6.6 tons to a Swiss museum, and reused, studied, or recycled another 2.2 tons. Thirteen tons of nets were strategically placed in Kaho‘olawe’s gullies as a novel method of erosion control. We also collected nearly 6,000 “sharkastics,” which are pieces of plastic that show evidence of bite marks.

Now, this beautiful bay no longer looks like it does in the picture that is displayed if you search Wikipedia for “marine debris.”  For more information about this successful project, including my project videos and conference presentations, please visit KIRC’s website.  Mahalo to NOAA for the support!

Before and after photos of Kanapou.

But the story continues! After responding to an on-line request for marine debris, I worked closely with the Museum Für Gestaltung (Museum of Design) in Switzerland to stage a 40-foot shipping container on Maui, where we were sling-loading the debris from Kanapou.  We packed the container with about 6.6 tons of assorted debris, filled out all of the customs paperwork, and shipped it off.  It arrived safely in Zurich about 2.5 months later.

A 40-foot shipping container is loaded with debris headed to Switzerland’s Museum of Design.

And the happy ending…  The helicopter contractor (Jacob Freeman of CDF Engineering) and I were graciously hosted by the Museum for the opening weeks of the exhibit, titled “Out to Sea?” Kaho‘olawe’s debris is the focal point of the exhibit, with highly informative displays surrounding it.  It was very surreal to see the debris displayed in such a foreign (but beautiful!) place on such a grand scale.  The museum has done a wonderful job, and it’s a dream come true to see it being used like this instead of clogging up Maui’s landfill.

Marine debris from Kaho‘olawe is featured in the museum’s “Out to Sea?” exhibit.

We explained the clean-up process during museum tours, which was an even more interesting experience due to having a translator (most speak a good bit of English, but their primary language is Swiss-German).  The attendants and museum team were very intrigued by the exhibit and our experiences, and we had many lively discussions (over delicious food and drinks!) about local and global plastic pollution issues. We formed lasting friendships that will hopefully inspire multiple positive changes, especially as the exhibit travels around Europe after it departs Zurich at the end of September.

This project is a very effective forum for educating the world about marine debris. If you get a chance, grab your passport and go check it out! Or, visit the exhibit website at


Cheryl King is the founder of and the Vice President of Hawai’i Wildlife Fund.

Author: NOAA Marine Debris Program

The NOAA Marine Debris Program envisions the global ocean and its coasts, users, and inhabitants free from the impacts of marine debris. Our mission is to investigate and solve the problems that stem from marine debris, in order to protect and conserve our nation's marine environment, natural resources, industries, economy, and people.

One thought on “Hawai’i Marine Debris Tours Europe

  1. 31 TONS OF TRASH?! WOW, what an amazing transformation of Kanapou Bay! Beautiful effort by such dedicated volunteers . . . great video on the KIRC website.

    I’m one of the NOAA MDP volunteers on the Northern California coast ~ Bodega Bay, CA. A handful of us are working through Surfrider’s of Sonoma County to collect and record marine debris. I learned something new! “Sharkastics” . . . I find lots of those here but our volume of trash is miniscule in comparison to what I see coming out of Hawaii. If one looks closely though it’s there in tiny fragments all along the shore break.

    It’s not likely that I’ll have the opportunity to see the exhibit in Switzerland but I will pass on the information to everyone I talk to. Interactive exhibits are a beautiful way to educate ~ thanks so much to all involved in putting this massive effort together!

    I post photos from our shores from time to time, come by and visit. I hope to bring my family to Hawaii soon and participate in a cleanup effort.

    Mahalo ~

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