Editor's Page: Waves of… Garbage?

Keeping our beaches clean begins with what we do on land.

Photo: Linny Morris

If you’ve heard of the Surfrider Foundation, chances are you’re most familiar with its monthly beach clean-ups. These are always open to the public; the foundation provides volunteers with supplies and lunch. Recent cleanups include Pokai Bay and Sand Island—at the latter, volunteer real estate agents from Coldwell-Banker picked up more than 500 pounds of garbage in a couple of hours.

The foundation was started by three surfers in Malibu in 1984, originally to protect a single California surf break, and now has a much bigger mission, and 80 chapters around the world, including five in the Islands. “Our Hilo chapter just won an award for being the fastest growing chapter in the nation,” says Stuart Coleman, Hawaii regional coordinator.

A lot of junk, visible and invisible, ends up on our beaches, so the mission of the Surfrider Foundation has extended to things we do on land, such as flicking cigarette butts on the road, tossing out plastic water bottles, or dousing our yards with too much fertilizer and pesticides. “The ocean is downhill of everything,” says Coleman.

It was the late Rell Sunn who, in the 1990s, helped to set the foundation in its current direction at a time when it was debating whether or not to focus solely on surf issues. Says Coleman, “She really pushed for it to take on environmental issues representing the whole coast and everyone who loves it.”

In present-day Hawaii, that means taking on injection wells on Maui that can leach partially treated wastewater onto beaches, and lobbying, two years ago, for legislation that protects Hawaii’s strong—but not universally followed—beach access laws, requiring unblocked public walkways to beaches even where private homes line the shore. One of the foundation’s public-awareness campaigns, Ocean Friendly Gardens, tries to educate homeowners about the impact of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and solid pavement instead of turf in neighborhoods. “Everything you put in your yard and everything we pave over just means more oil and gas and trash going right into the ocean,” says Coleman.

Another of the foundation’s campaigns is its Rise Above Plastics pledge, no doubt inspired by having to pick countless empty water bottles and plastic bags off the beach. The average person in Hawaii, says the foundation, runs through 167 single-use plastic bottles and 400 plastic bags a year, all of which, if not recycled, end up in the landfill or the ocean. (Though it seems to me that trash cans at our public beaches are part of the problem—too few, too full and too open.)

Coleman has been volunteering with the Surfrider Foundation for eight years, having originally moved to the Islands from South Carolina to surf and write. He’s done both, penning the definitive biography of Eddie Aikau, Eddie Would Go, as well as writing for numerous publications, including HONOLULU. His current job is the local chapter’s first full-time staff position, as the foundation grows and professionalizes, modeling itself after such groups as the Sierra Club. He estimates that maybe half the volunteers are themselves surfers, the other half people who enjoy the beaches in other ways or just care about Hawaii continuing to have clean, safe, accessible beaches.

Maybe you could be one of those volunteers; the beach cleanups are a great way to start. This month’s will be held at Waialua Beach Park on Dec. 7. For more information, visit ww2.surfrider.org/oahu.