Unalau Beach is a rugged and secluded stretch of coastline on Kauai that is situated in such a way that, despite its remoteness, has accumulated an inconceivable amount of plastic trash and debris. The garbage, mostly household items and detritus from the commercial fishing industry, have been dragged across the ocean by the Trade Winds that blow at a direct perpendicular angle to the rocky coastline. Despite the efforts of local organizations like the Niumalu Canoe Club and the Surfrider Foundation, the trash remained because there was simply too much of it and it was too difficult to remove.
To get to Unalau Bay you cross the channel at Nawiliwili Harbor and then hike in a mile. “That bay is in somewhat of a secluded location and it was the first time I’d ever been there,” says David Nagao, Director of the Hokuala Community Association who was born and raised on Kauai. “The only way to reach the beach is by kayak, or to swim. The only people who venture on land are fisherman who might hike around to access fishing grounds for mussels. When we first hiked over the ridge and looked down into the bay and you could see all this trash, over 2,000 pounds of it. There were hundreds of people lined up on the shore to haul it off and I had goose bumps, just seeing all the hard work that was being done and all these people coming together to make it happen.”
Over 250 people turned out to volunteer for the beach clean-up in a joint effort coordinated by Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii and Timbers Kauai. Unfortunately, Mother Nature was not in the mood to cooperate. “The idea was that they were going to ski in and haul the debris offshore by jet skis onto the boats but the waves were really bad and the shorebreak was making it too difficult. It became a life or death situation. It was crazy, so they had to stop,” Nagao says. The garbage was bundled into carriers and pulled further upshore so it wouldn’t get pulled back into the ocean.
It took a few months to work through a solution to get the bagged trash off the remote beach. Enter Jack Harter Helicopters, who came in and air-lifted the trash onto the Hokuala property to be loaded into Timbers Kauai trucks and trailers to be moved for proper disposal. For Nagao, it was an emotional event. “During the whole event there was this whale in the middle of the peninsula, not diving or splashing, but just sitting in the water, breaching. I like to think that whale was showing appreciation, saying ‘thank you for finally picking up your trash,” Nagao says. “It was a spiritual moment.”
To learn more about Sustainable Coastline Hawaii and their ongoing commitment to protect Kauai’s pristine environment, go to http://sustainablecoastlineshawaii.org/