Researchers use Kamilo Point's 'plastic beach' as lab for garbage tracking

Published: Feb. 23, 2018 at 8:59 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 23, 2018 at 9:44 PM HST
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KAMILO BEACH (HawaiiNewsNow) - Kamilo Point Beach — often nicknamed Plastic Beach because of the concerning amount of refuse on its shores — has a bit of a rope problem too.

Last week, UH researcher Sarah-Jeanne Royer took a picture standing atop a gigantic pile of discarded fishing rope embedded in Kamilo Point's lava rock coastline, bringing attention to the troubling environmental hazard.

Royer is part of Nikolai Maximenko's group at the International Pacific Research Center, a group that recently started a project where they attach GPS trackers to marine debris to better determine the pathways of garbage once it hits the ocean.

The project is connected to a larger venture with NASA that uses GPS buoys to monitor marine debris patterns for over a year. researchers also plan on studying organisms living inside the ropes to check for invasive species.

On Thursday, Royer and other volunteers from the Hawaii Wildlife Fund returned to Kamilo Point to analyze the pile of rope that washed ashore in late January.

Since the Hawaii Wildlife Fund's last visit, Royer observed that the rope mass might have gotten smaller due to part of it washing out back into the ocean.

"I think over the past week either a big wave or major tide came up and took part of the mass back out to sea - or over time it's just started settling close to the ground.  It's difficult to know, but it does seem a little smaller," said Royer in a news release.

Royer explained that Hawaii's unusually large amount of debris this winter may be attributed to debris that originated in Asia that was caught in the North Pacific Gyre, which has been commonly known as the 'North Pacific Garbage Patch' for its tendency to collect ocean litter. "The gyre is spitting out this stuff and it's ending up on our shores," Royer said in a news release.

At Kamilo Point, Hawaii Wildlife Fund volunteers has collected ropes and nets that washed up on the beach. And statewide, over the past 15 years, the nonprofit group estimates that they have removed and transported over 231 tons of debris.

If you're trying to picture it, that's enough garbage to create more than 30 life-sized adult African elephants.

Discarded fishing gear is the most noticeable garbage that washes ashore, but volunteers say that they've seen and gathered litter of all shapes, sizes and materials.

Bill Gillmartin, a Hawaii Wildlife Fund volunteer, says that they've found discarded nets and ropes on a number of Hawaiian beaches including a 'huge island of nets' 10 miles south of Diamond Head.

"There's such an incredible amount of junk in the ocean it's hard to think it will ever be completely cleaned up," Gillmartin said. "But we can all do our part now, not to add to the problem."

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