Tons of Beach Debris Airlifted From Kahoʻolawe

Crews hit the beach on Kahoʻolawe Wednesday to remove an estimated five tons of debris that had accumulated on the eastern shores of the virtually uninhabited island. Staff from the Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC) invite volunteers to join them every three years or so to collect the rubbish, most of it plastic, that is concentrated in the area of Kanapou Bay by trade winds and ocean currents in the Alalakeiki Channel that separates the bombed out and denuded island from South Maui. 

After a years-long delay caused in part by the COVID-19 pandemic, 23 large canvas bags were airlifted off the beach by Windward Aviation helicopters Wednesday and delivered to KIRC’s base yard on Maui where the material will be sorted and much of it recycled. Local nonprofits have been enlisted to turn some of it into a variety of “second life” products. 

KIRC public information specialist Maggie Pulver calls the island a “North Pacific Garbage Patch in miniature,” recalling that just a few decades ago it was mostly driftwood that gathered along the shoreline, but that today plastic debris—much of it discarded fishing gear—is “ankle deep” in some places. “When we see this stuff time after time, it should serve as a reminder to all of us to think about our plastic use,” Pulver is quoted as saying. “Until we can break our over-reliance on plastics, this will be a never-ending project.” 

Kahoʻolawe’s Kanapou Bay tends to capture a lot of floating debris due to its eastward orientation towards the predominant trade winds. Map by Apple Maps

Dan Collins