LYDGATE — Rusty and Debbie Cottrell watched the sun rise over the ocean Thursday morning as they pulled a wagon across the sand at Lydgate Beach.
“Our goal was to come out here this morning and get the trash that we’ve been stowing away up along the bank,” Debbie said.
The Wailua Homesteads couple has been walking the beach nearly every day for 23 years. As they do, they collect litter, stashing it in the bushes away from the waterline.
They carry away what they can on their daily trips, but every so often they have to bring out the wagon to collect the larger piles that accumulate on the beach.
That was the plan Thursday morning. Instead, the couple spent three or four hours collecting beer bottles, diapers, food wrappings and dilapidated shoes from the sand.
“Here’s a few nails,” Rusty said as he combed through the remnants of a fire. “That wouldn’t feel good to step on.”
The couple filled their wagon with the litter that was strewn along the beach before they even got to the trash they’d piled up on the bank.
They also came across a few wave-tossed laundry baskets already full of debris from the beach, which Rusty said isn’t uncommon.
“Obviously there’s some unsung heroes out here that are picking things up, too,” he said.
“Just the other day I had to drive down here with a bigger vehicle to pick up stuff people dragged up.”
Some of what they collect is marine debris that floated in from elsewhere, he said, but much the trash came from the people on land.
Rusty and Debbie usually collect litter down past the playground where it’s mostly locals who congregate, they said. That leads them to believe that it’s locals, not tourists, who toss trash onto the beach.
What’s most frustrating for Rusty, he said, is that the County of Kauai has trashcans situated in several places around the beach.
“This garbage is on the ground 100 yards from a trashcan. It’s irresponsible,” Rusty said. “Why are we trashing our own beach? It’s like trashing our own back yard.”
Littering on public land can bring with it a maximum of $250 per violation in penalties from the county and up to $1,000 per violation in fines from the state.
In the county’s maintained beach parks, along the bike path or state-maintained places like Polihale, trashcans are available.
When a trash receptacle isn’t nearby, officials and conservationists ask that people pack their garbage out with them when they leave.
Each park has its own caretaker, according to Kauai Parks and Recreation Director Lenny Rapozo. County beach parks are cleaned daily and park rangers patrol parks daily for litter and other violations, he said.
A broken fishing pole with rotting bait, dish soap containers and a tire were among Rusty and Debbie’s treasures from their Thursday outing, and they’re not the only ones who regularly find this kind of trash on Kauai beaches.
Members of Surfrider Kauai’s beach cleanup branch often pick up trash of this nature during weekly missions and special conservation events.
“It’s not OK and it’s all about educating the public not to litter,” said Scott McCubbins, head of Surfrider Kauai’s Net Patrol. “Place your garbage in a trash can, or take it to the transfer station. It’s that simple.”