Trash Covers Hawaii Beach, and More's Coming

Pierre Omidyar/Civil Beat

KAMILO BEACH — Garbage, as far as the eye can see.

For generations, Kamilo Beach on the Kau coast of the Big Island of Hawaii was known as a magnet for driftwood. Two currents — one coming up from South Point and the other coming down from Cape Kumukahi — combined with fierce onshore winds to make this rocky stretch of shoreline the final resting place for plenty of natural debris.

Today, among those logs, seeds and grains of sand is something else entirely: a full rainbow of plastics ranging in scope from pea-sized building blocks called "nurdles" up to larger items like bottle caps, toothbrushes, fishing gear, computer monitors and barrels.

Some debris visible on a visit this week — such as a used Aloha Soy Sauce packet — was quite obviously generated in Hawaii. Cigarettes are another example of locally-produced waste — they'd decompose during a long trek across the sea.

But much of the debris — it's impossible to know exactly how much — comes to Kamilo from much farther away. One piece of plastic was adorned with Japanese writing. Ropes were sprinkled with a species of barnacle found commonly in the Pacific Northwest.

(View a slideshow from Civil Beat's trip to Kamilo Beach.)

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