An Aerial Survey Shows Hawai‘i’s Beaches Are Littered With Marine Debris

The study found 20,658 pieces of buoys, floats, foam, plastics and tires washing up on Hawai‘i beaches.
Video: Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources 


A new marine debris aerial survey of the eight main Hawaiian Islands will make you think twice before you chuck that plastic water bottle away. 


The study, conducted in August and November of 2015 by the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources and the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s Hawai‘i Coral Reef initiative, documented 20,658 pieces of marine debris on Hawai‘i’s shoreline. 


“We were finding vessels and abandoned shipping containers,” says Kirsten Moy, DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources.


Ni‘ihau had the highest concentration of marine debris in the state with 38 percent of the total number, while O‘ahu had the least amount of debris, with 5 percent. All the other Islands had less than 14 percent. 




The report revealed that marine debris on O‘ahu concentrated mostly on the northern tip of the Island around the Kahuku area. The analysis identified 984 pieces of marine debris on O‘ahu’s coastline, with plastics as the most common type. The study also included buoys and floats, tires, derelict fishing gear and foam washing up on O‘ahu’s beaches. 


“What you get especially on O‘ahu is a lot of great cleanup effort,” Moy says. “The state also has done a very good job in the past of responding to large debris items and so, when we do have large items that wash up on shore, they are reported, noted and removed.”


The Ministry of the Environment of Japan funded the study as part of the Japan Gift Fund awarded to western states including Hawai‘i. They sent an aircraft to capture high-resolution images of the coastlines of Lāna‘i, Ni‘ihau, Kaua‘i, Maui, Hawai‘i Island, Moloka‘i, Kaho‘olawe and O‘ahu. Researchers reviewed the images to map out every single piece of marine debris that washed up on the shore. The debris accumulation has little connection with the 2011 Tohoku, Japan tsunami. 


The DLNR officials believe that most of the items mapped from the images are associated with someone carelessly tossing plastic items onto the ground or into the ocean. The items get caught up in the ocean currents and lands on the north- and east-facing shores. Moy recommends recycling, using less plastic and making sure waste goes into garbage cans. 


See the full report below.