There’s a beautiful bay on Maui’s northeastern facing shore called “Ka’ehu”, where endangered species are spotted and Hawaiian practitioners can still connect with their past. Unfortunately, an endless supply of marine debris washes ashore here, scarring the beachscape. Some of these items have come from human littering right down the coast, the ‘Iao Stream outflow that’s just to the south of Ka’ehu, neighbor Hawaiian islands, elsewhere in the vast Pacific Ocean, or even from the other ocean basins since everything is connected.

During our 4th Sunday of every month Ka’ehu Cleanups, we tackle the trash with a group of dedicated volunteers from around the world and locally who gain their good karma points, oxytocin, vitamin D, and exercise from learning about this special place, picking up the marine debris and carrying it back to our sorting tent.  There, our most experienced volunteers lead the process of identifying and subsequently counting each and every item. Everything from household items (like toothbrushes) to single use items (like straws) to fishing-related items (like net bundles) go into a different bucket, bin or pile corresponding to the detailed categories on our data sheet.  This is a very time-consuming process, but the data output provides us with a snapshot of what’s floating around in our oceans, which is rather shocking and fascinating all at the same time.

Marine Debris - Kaehu Cleanups

To avoid getting super depressed with the amount of debris that washes ashore as if we didn’t just do a cleanup the month before, we have to look at it like a treasure hunt- we never know what we’ll find!  

More specific information will be shared in future reports, but the broad categories since Turtle Island Restoration Network became a supporting partner in this project in October 2017 are shown in the graphics below.  It’s no surprise that plastics continue to be the biggest offender, but the amounts of polystyrene foam (aka “styrofoam”, which is technically a form of plastic) are also staggering. Maui County’s laws prohibiting the sale and use of polystyrene foam take out containers (in which we used our data to show the extent of the issue during the hearings) goes into effect December 31, 2018.  So, we’re counting on seeing an eventual decrease of these items.


Even with our other cleanup and conservation activities, cleaning and researching Ka’ehu once a month may not be exactly what saves the planet…  So, why bother? Since the beginning of this Ka’ehu Cleanup project led by in July 2012 and fueled by hundreds of volunteers, we’ve removed 314,588 items that could’ve been deadly ingestion and/or entanglement hazards to animals of all sizes.  This is why we must continue these cleanup efforts.

Participants leave each cleanup with a deeper understanding of this ocean pollution problem, and their actions based on this new awareness has a ripple effect that will certainly be beneficial to solving this international concern.  We are pleased to know that we’ve been a small part of the anti-marine debris movement that continues to grow globally every day with the help of social media and films such as Chris Jordan’s “Albatross”. Please join us!