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The Unique Challenges of Removing Marine Debris from Kaho‘olawe

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By: Dean Tokishi, Guest Blogger and Ocean Resources Specialist for the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission

Even as the smallest of the eight Main Hawaiian Islands, Kaho‘olawe still collects a significant amount of debris. This can affect the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve, which is the largest state-held, contiguous marine reserve in the Main Hawaiian Islands, providing undisturbed habitat for marine life where commercial activities are prohibited. Kaho‘olawe has a rich cultural history with close ties to the ocean and all of the marine life found within. This relationship is studied in both traditional and western ways. In the Hawaiian culture, Kaho‘olawe is recognized as the physical manifestation of Kanaloa, the Hawaiian god of the ocean and the foundation of the earth, highlighting the island’s sacredness and cultural significance. Unfortunately, the currents surrounding Kaho‘olawe create a constant threat of marine debris. The State of Hawaii’s Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC), located on Maui, oversees the environmental and cultural restoration of the island and its resources.

Through a removal grant made possible by the NOAA Marine Debris Program, the KIRC has been able to engage close to 150 volunteers from around the state to support or participate in beach cleanup events on Kaho‘olawe. These efforts play a critical role in keeping this island clean, as there are several unique factors that make beach cleanups on Kaho‘olawe particularly challenging. This includes the need for volunteers to swim through heavily shark-populated waters from a boat to the cleanup site. The beach site, which was previously used as a bombing range, is home to all types of unexpected debris including shopping carts, bowling balls, and refrigerators. Due to the remote location of both the island and the beach site (Keoneuli, Kanapou), logistics and planning are always critical. If something is forgotten or urgently needed, the option of getting in a car and driving to get it is simply not feasible. Volunteers can only bring under 25 pounds of supplies per person, which includes all of their own camping equipment, food for 4 days, and personal gear. All supplies are then floated to the beach site. At the end of each 4-day trip, not only does everything brought into the site by volunteers need to be removed, but the collected debris must be removed as well. Due to the remote location and difficult logistics, all of the collected debris is flown out by helicopter sling load. To prepare for this removal method, the debris is staged and sorted before being bundled up into heavy netting. The four corners of the net are then secured by cable to the underbelly of a helicopter and flown across the 7 mile ‘Alalākeiki Channel to Maui. Once delivered by helicopter, the debris is driven to either a disposal site or recycling center.

The KIRC would like to thank all of the many volunteers that have worked so hard in helping with the removal and sorting process as well as the NOAA Marine Debris Program for the generous support. Because of all involved, nearly 12 tons of debris have been removed from the shorelines of Kaho‘olawe over an 18-month period!

For more information about this project, check out the project profile page.

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 “The Unique Challenges of Removing Marine Debris from Kaho‘olawe

  1. Great work everyone!!! This is inspiring!

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