The sun is shining brightly overhead and only a few clouds are scattered across the sky. I walk along the white sandy beach, smiling as the cool water flows across my feet and gently recedes back, exposing more dark sand underneath. I hear the laughs of people playing in the ocean and the soft lap of the waves. Everything seems great; everything is great. Then I look down. I see a long line of tiny, brightly colored plastics in the sand right where the water disposed of them. I sigh and kneel down in the sand, sifting through layers of crushed sand and rock to pick out the tiny pieces of plastic that have mixed in with the sand. As I work, I think about where these pieces originated. Did they come from plastics that someone dumped in the water right here in Hawaii? More likely they came from Asia or Australia, thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean, where the current has just now dropped them off on Oahu’s shore.
This is what I have been working on for the past six weeks here in Honolulu on the island of Oahu. I am interning for the second summer at a nonprofit called All One Ocean, an organization that works to educate people about the issue of marine debris and focuses on building beach clean up stations for the public to use. My internship consists of two parts; the first is to connect with members of local beach cleanup organizations to build a more extensive network of contacts for All One Ocean and the second is to collect trash from the island’s beaches and categorize and quantify the data. I have met and talked with people who work for the Department of Land and Natural Resources, a nonprofit called Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Parks and Recreation Department of the County of Honolulu. It has been very rewarding to talk with people of various backgrounds and perspectives and I have gained great insights on how to combat the issue of marine debris.
I have traveled to beaches all over this island and have spent countless hours scouring the sand and water for anything man-made. This aspect of my internship has truly enlightened me to the omnipresence of trash on beaches and in the ocean. To date, I have picked up 1,166 pieces of trash from beaches scattered across Oahu and most of this has consisted of plastics and cigarette butts. Sometimes I have found this job frustrating because I spend so much time picking up what other people have left behind and I often wonder why they left it behind in the first place. However, ultimately seeing the trash on the beaches and talking with people who work in the field of marine debris prevention and research has made me even more passionate about this issue and has inspired me to pursue a career in marine biology.