MAHAULEPU — People on Kauai are still wondering about the black, tar-like substance infiltrating the tide pools on the eastern side of Maha’ulepu Beach.
The state Department of Health confirmed an investigation into the substance on Aug. 17, but did not respond to requests for an update on the investigation by press time Monday.
No restrictions or warnings have been released in relation to the substance.
Volunteers with the Kauai Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, however, say they believe it looks like bunker fuel from passing container and cruise ships.
“It is dirtier than coal, it pollutes the air and the water and it is the cheapest, dirtiest fuel there is,” said Gordon LaBedz, of Kauai Surfrider Foundation. “It is the fuel that the container ships and the cruise ships use instead of diesel.”
Robert Zelkovsky, also with Surfrider Kauai, said he also thinks it’s coming from passing cruise and container ships.
“I used to live on the East Coast and around Long Island you see those blobs often, it’s usually an industrial oil or a ship oil,” Zelkovsky said.
It’s just some of the pollution that’s washing up on the shoreline and is among beach plastic and nets that were the target of a planned cleanup on Aug. 26 by Surfrider Kauai Chapter and the Sierra Club.
The cleanup was canceled because Surfrider did not have a right of entry permit, and the Grove Farm gates were closed, preventing access to the beach.
Representatives with Grove Farm confirmed the gates were closed Aug. 21 because of incoming inclement weather, but didn’t comment further on the canceled cleanup.
Maha’uleup gate was opened on Monday in the late morning, and the normal 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. hours of operation have resumed, according to representatives.
While Grove Farm maintains the gate was closed due to weather, LaBedz and other conservationists think there might be more to the story.
“The road is never in good condition,” LaBedz said. “Why suddenly close it on the day of a well-publicized Surfrider Foundation beach cleanup?”
LaBedz pointed out Surfrider volunteers walked the road after it was closed to ascertain the condition, and “they thought the road was fine.”
But, opinions on the condition of the road vary.
“One of our volunteers walked the road and said it was full of puddles on that Friday,” Zelkovsky said. “Someone else said it was passable.”
Surfrider Kauai is working on rescheduling the Maha’ulepu cleanup, and the event could be pushed back as far as October, depending on the timing of upcoming events.
And some say cleaning up the area should be a higher priority.
“Maha’ulepu is a very important and sacred area,” said Lori Stitt, outreach coordinator for Malama Maha’ulepu.
She continued: “To be good stewards, we all need to address the polluted Waiopili stream, marine debris, derelict nets and now an oil-like slick found on the rocks and around the water.”