S.O.S. for oceans
LIHUE — In the midst of new plans to weaken or dismantle Obama-era environment policies like air pollution and fuel economy rules, President Donald Trump threw some support behind cleaning up the oceans in early October.
And, while environmental organizations nationwide and on Kauai are applauding the step, some say more needs to be done.
“While there is plenty of amazing plastic pollution prevention legislation passing at the local and state level, the federal government has been slow to take action on plastic pollution,” Surfrider’s Angela Howe said in a statement.
Howe continued: “We will continue to advocate for strong federal plastic pollution efforts and to be sure to tell the success stories that are coming from our active chapter network.”
On Oct. 11, Trump signed the federal Save Our Seas Act of 2018 (S.O.S. Act), after it passed through Congress.
The S.O.S. Act reauthorizes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program through 2022 and authorizes $10 million in funding per year for removal of single-use plastics, fishing gear, net removal and other marine debris from beaches and the ocean.
“This is one of the only federal plastics bills that has passed the Legislature in the past three years, after the Microbead Free Waters Act passed in December 2015,” Howe said.
The NOAA Marine Debris Program’s reauthorization means more money for marine debris cleanup on Kauai and throughout the state — but organizations have to apply for it.
“This legislation does not contain provisions specific to states or regions. However, it does allow the Marine Debris Program to continue its national competitive grants program, which can benefit Hawaii when a Hawaii-based grant applicant receives an award,” said NOAA Marine Debris Program public information officer Lindsey Palardy.
Recently, Hawaii Wildlife Fund used NOAA Marine Debris Program grant money to conduct a statewide marine debris removal project, partnering with Kauai Surfrider Foundation on the Garden Island.
Specifically on Kauai, that money went to Net Patrol and community cleanups on the island’s Eastside.
Statewide, the project targets places like South Point (Ka Lae) of Hawaii Island, where HWF volunteers have cleaned more than 100 tons of marine debris from beaches in the past four years.
HWF estimates debris is coming ashore at a rate of about 15-20 tons per year, comprised mostly of nets and floating plastic from the Pacific mega-gyre, as well as litter from the Japan tsunami.
On Kauai, Net Patrol and community cleanup volunteers gather weekly to clean beaches all over the island, with larger events peppered into the mix as well.
In July volunteers loaded thousands of pounds of nets and plastics into Matson containers bound for Oahu’s trash-to-energy conversion plant, H-Power, and calculated the amount of plastic and nets they’d collected in the first six months of 2018.
That figure came out to more than 60,000 pounds — and that number won’t get any smaller, according to those involved.
Worldwide, single-use plastics are under the microscope, with countries like Kenya, Zimbabwe, Taiwan, Canada, France and Australia all enacting various legislations to ban or restrict plastic consumption.
Many states nationwide have taken steps to regulate plastics as well, and Hawaii has been right in the pack.
During the 2017-18 legislative season, at least 73 bills were introduced in state legislatures just targeting just plastic bags, with statewide de facto bans enacted in Hawaii and California.
Plastic straws have also been targeted, with laws banning or restricting them in cities like Seattle, Malibu and Fort Myers, Florida.
Annually, an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the world’s oceans, and while the feds signed legislation to help clean that up, Trump pointed out it’s not just America feeding into the problem.
“It’s incredible. It’s incredible when you look at it,” Trump said during his remarks at the S.O.S. Act signing. “People don’t realize it, but all the time we’re being inundated by debris from other countries.”
China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam are the main offenders, according to a 2017 report by Ocean Conservancy.
China is responsible for dropping up to 3.53 million metric tons (MMT) of marine debris in the ocean per year, according to the report, with the United States coming in at up to 0.11 MMT/yr.
While the president pointed a finger at the rest of the world for polluting the oceans, environmental activists say some pieces to the puzzle are being ignored.
“The bill has been criticized for looking too much at other countries as the source of plastic pollution and ignoring the fact that much of the consumption of single-use plastic products and the fracking for natural gas that is used to make plastic takes place in the United States,” Howe said.