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Turning the Tide on Marine Debris

Hawaii is world-renowned for its beautiful beaches and frequently pictured as an ideal paradise. Despite being an island, Maui, like its neighbors, is susceptible to pressures including litter and other man-made debris that flows downstream and is deposited onto our beaches. Nevertheless, the good news is we can mitigate and even prevent these harmful additions to our marine environment.

Derelict fishing gear, nets, and line have the potential to entangle marine animals. Many of this equipment washes ashore to the Hawaiian Islands. Photo taken at Kaho‘olawe, HI.

Commonly referred to as marine debris, this material poses the single most substantial threat to coastal environments and marine life. Plastic single-use items, such as water bottles, are highly popular for their ease of use but are a leading source of marine debris. Unfortunately plastic does not break down like organic or biodegradable materials. Instead, plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces eventually becoming microscopic in size. And when small enough, these colorful, bright pieces of plastic are often mistaken by animals for food causing pain and sometimes death.

You can make a difference with these four simple steps:

1. Use reusable bags, refillable water bottles, and lunch boxes and say no to one-time use items
2. Volunteer at community-led reef and beach clean-up events
3. Choose organic alternatives to household cleaners, fertilizers, and insecticides to decrease chemical runoff into streams and the ocean
4. Compost food scraps and recycle

Marine debris was a topic of much discussion at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) that took place in September 2016. Environmental policy makers from around the world gathered to discuss and implement goals and measures to conserve, preserve, and ensure a sustainable natural environment for future generations. Never held before in the USA, this gathering in Hawaii represented an enormous opportunity to share ideas while highlighting Hawaii’s organizations and groups that contribute to keeping its island environments beautiful and healthy.

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Derelict fishing gear, nets, and line have the potential to entangle marine animals. Many of this equipment washes ashore to the Hawaiian Islands. Photo taken at Kaho‘olawe, HI.

Maui Ocean Center sent a team of delegates to learn and discuss environmental challenges. Our booth showcased the programs that we have implemented including quarterly reef and beach cleanups, coral restoration and transplanting, as well as robust reduce, reuse, and recycle programs. We also gave away free, limited edition, Maui Ocean Center reusable bags to those who took MOC’s #GoGreenForBlue pledge to promote reusable product substitution and challenge their home communities to ban one-time use plastic bags.

In Hawaii, it is important to malama ‘aina or care for and nurture the land so that it can give back and sustain us. Knowledge is essential in turning the tide on marine debris, and now that you know how easy it is to start these changes, please pass it on and encourage others to make the change. Working to care for what we all love brings together communities and hope for a better future!

Written by Larissa Treese, Head Aquarist at Maui Ocean Center. Ka Mo‘olelo Moana, or “The Ocean Story,” is a monthly column submitted to The Maui News by Maui Ocean Center staff members.

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