Megan Lamson on Plastic Debris at Kamilo Beach, Hawai’i
In March 2011, I interviewed marine biologist Megan Lamson, who works for the Hawai’i Wildlife Fund and organizes beach cleanups at Kamilo Beach at Ka’alu’alu Bay. Some of these quotes were used in this German radio feature. Here are the snippets without German voice-over.
There are old sayings, like Olelo No’eau, wise sayings in Hawaii that talk about Ka’alu’alu and talk about Kamilo as being like the basin for driftwood to wash up and to be the place where people look for loved ones when they wash up the sea, if someone gets lost at sea. So historically that area has been kind of the catcher of things that are floating in the ocean. Back in the day it was large pieces of heavy wood from other continents, and now unfortunately it’s a lot of plastic.
You know, we find a lot of toothbrushes and combes, plastic bottlecaps…all sorts of bottles, mostly plastic, over and over again – when I’m adding up all the statistics from data sheets after the beach cleanups, we’re finding, you know, sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety percent of the rubbish always is plastic. We do also get some metal, various types of plastic, we’ll get styrofoam, and rubber, and what else do we get? We’ll get metal and wood floating up as well, but the main things are plastic bottles, plastic floats, styrofoam fishing buoys, fishing line net that’s made predominantly from nylon and other floating plastics…and interesting finds, we found syringes and medical gear, we found condoms and tampons and things that you don’t want to pick up, disposable plastic plates, utensils, all sorts of construction helmets all the time. I mean coconuts are regular but we don’t really mess with those. I found a surfboard, that was a pretty good squir, I’ve been trying to fix that up into functional, and glass floats, every now and then a lucky volunteer will find a glass float, they’re are not as much in production I’m told, so whole variety, whole slew of things from little lentil, pea size, nerdles, plastic nerdles, to two-ton fishing nets. and we’re picking up everything in between, too, so kind of a mix.
Unfortunately plastic, because it does not biodegrade, it doesn’t desintegrate, and especially flowing around in the saltwater being exposed to a lot of UV radiation from the sunlight, it just gets brittle and breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces. And so, a lot of what we do find, is very small pieces that are unidentifiable. So, you know you will have nerdles, the little building blocks, but you’ll also have these various pieces, that you don’t know if it came from a bottle or a fishing float, or what. And a lot of it is that. And we’ve only just recently started to pick up the little stuff, we’ve been so focussed on the big, bigger items, now we’re starting to realize that I think a lot of it is the little stuff.
We can take guesses. We’ve tried to identify especially with the fishing nets where we think they’re coming from. But even when you do identify by the color and the mesh and the way they tie their knots, even a vague idea of what type of fishery it comes from, or where it is possibly made, you don’t know where it was left in the ocean. So it’s really, really hard to pinpoint, I mean, maybe someday in the future we will be able to identify it with tags, and stuff, you have to register your nets when they’re purchased, but…You know it’s hard to say when you find a fishing float from, even with the vessel tags with phone numbers from the Mainland, from Portland, or from the Bay Area in California, whether the boat, you know, lost its tag in Portland or California, or if it lost it, you know, right off the shores of Hawaii, you know one can never tell. So a lot of things from California, a lot of things from Japan. A little, a small amount is from Hawaii, most of it is from elsewhere. It’s hard, you know, because the blame, because there’s no one person to point the blame to, it’s kind of an international multi-group issue, problem and…unfortunately the debris is washing up in Hawaii and so we’re responsible now for taking care of that.
It’s hard to get reliable data unless you are in there counting it all individually or unless you have somebody who’s designated specifically: I’m only going to take data, you know? ‚Cause who wants to count: One lighter, one big lighter, or one plastic water container, when it takes so much time to record the data, and there’s so much washing up every day, we would rather just focus our energy in getting it off the beach and taking rough estimates of the amount of rubbish we’re picking up.
You know it’s a give and take: We live in a plastic world, the car we’re sitting in right now is full of plastic, we rely on plastic, it’s a very functional material. But it’s also gotten to an excess, so I just think each of us have to work out individually on, you know, a personal level, that balance. You know, can you bring your own plastic cup or mug to get your coffee in the morning. Can you reuse that baggie for your sandwich, or not even have them in the first place, have glass jars, great. But not everyone is there yet, so we just try to set a good example. I wish we could provide everyone with a stainless steel waterbottle. At this point – you know I don’t know how it is over there, but our country is kind of struggling and so grants are small and you know, providing a 7-Dollar stainless steel water bottle is not possible.
Plastic is not evil, it’s functional. But we really need to be respectful to the earth and we really need to think twice about our impact and our overreliance on it.