Sunday, September 20, 2009

Beaches, Bottles and Butts

This past Saturday, I went out on a solo "Get the Drift and Bag It" run to Honuapo (Whittington Beach). My friend Janice Crowl had originally arranged it, picking up the bags, rubber gloves and inventory cards. But she wasn't feeling well, so I went down by myself. Once I got there, though, I got help from a lady and her daughter who'd just come to the beach for the day. They took off on their own, and I filled a bag by myself. Another gentleman started cleaning up aroun his own picnic table, but declined to join the official venture; he just dumped his collection into the nearest trash barrel.
Whittington/Honuapo is probably one of the cleanest beach parks on the island; it's been adapted by a local citizen's group that, I suspect, regularly polices the place. I can remember the time before the County purchased the area around Honuapo Pond: then, the whole area was overgrown with head-high weeds and saturated with trash, particularly broken beer bottles. Now it's a beautiful, open park, with close-cropped lawns, except in the wild area on the Puna side of the pond.
But there was still plenty to pick up. Thanks to the years of abuse prior to the county takeover, the dirt under the grass is filled with shards of bottle glass and rotting bits of plastic. And park-goers still contribute their daily dose of fresh cigarette butts, plastic forks and stray food wrappers.
The Ocean Conservancy, which sponsors the cleanup, gives out cards on which to inventory card on which to record items we pick up; they use the data to "educate public, business, and government officials about the scale and serious consequences of the global marine debris problem." The card instucts participants to "Please pick up ALL the debris you find," but "Only record information for the items listed below." "Below" are lines for keeping a running tally for 42 categories of litter, from batteries to tobacco packaging.
By far the most common category of debris I picked up were cigarette butts; by the end of the day, I'd collected 73 of the little buggahs, and I had by no means gotten all of them. I suspect that many of those butts were the work of only a few slobs: in one small area, for instance, I found 14 butts, all Seneca brand. That guy's lungs must be really gray.
But the adults weren't the only sinners at the park: the second largest category of litter was food wrappers--mainly candy wrappers. I found about 20 of those, including the first Bazooka Joe bubble gum comic I'd read in years.
I also collected 14 caps and lids, 12 pull tabs, nine beverage containers, seven plastic forks or spoons, six plastic BBs, six pieces of fishing line, five pieces of rope or cord, three fishing floats (but no glass ones. Rats.), three fragments of toys, one empty cigarette pack, one bait container (in this case, squid), one piece of building debris, one lead fishing weight, and hundreds of the aforementioned glass fragments).
The low number of beverage containers suggests that the HI 5 deposit program may, indeed, be working -- especially since three of those were non-recyclable juice boxes, and four of the five cans were fished out of the water;I suspect they got caught by the wind and blown out of the beach-goers' reach. But the bits of old glass were really bad news, especially in a place where there are loads of kids are running around barefoot.
The most unusual find of the day was floating in the little pond below the Whittington Beach picnic tables. It was a 50 milliliter glass vial, still sealed and full of water: obviously a scientific sample of some sort. The waterproof marker that the researcher had used had worked really well: I could still make out most of the label information, which included the date: " 12/14 /O4"
Unfortunately, the label did not include a name or address. I'll probably take it down to the Department of Health office in Hilo and have them dispose of it.
At one point, my path crossed again with the lady and daughter who had volunteered. She thanked me again for doing this job, and mentioned that she'd had an unpleasant encounter with one group of picnickers. A male in the party had asked what she was collecting. She'd explained, and the man turned to a female companion and told her "opala."
"Fuck," the woman had replied.
"And they were locals," said the volunteer. "You'd think they'd be the ones with the most to lose." She added that she was a kama'aina herself, of Portuguese ancestry.
"You get some hate doing this job," she mused.
But I also got thanked by three or four people over the course of the afternoon. One woman helped me gather up a few butts, asked me what I was finding, and I explained about the inventory sheet and the categories. I mentioned a few of the categories, including cigarettes.
"What about marijuana?" she asked.
"I guess that would be a butt, too," I replied.
But I didn't find any of those. People don't tend to waste joints, I suspect. Besides, they're biodegradable. A cigarette filter is forever.