Monday, March 12, 2012

Rozalia Project Intern Blog: Even in Paradise

This year, we have a great line-up of Rozalia Project interns. They come from a variety of academic backgrounds from marine biology to chemistry to environmental policy. We are excited to have their energy and different perspectives on the boat helping with marine debris removal, our education and research. But, we do not have to wait that long to hear from them. This is the first in a series of blog posts. Each intern was asked to write about marine debris from a personal angle. Marina Maze (Marine Biology, UC Santa Cruz 2011) kicks it off...

Even in Paradise
Everyone needs a vacation at some point, to recharge their batteries and let go of everyday stress brought on by our daily grinds. What’s the most popular destination in my book? Hawaii, and I am sure thousands of others would agree. The easily accessible tropical island chain offers a variety of escapes, to white sand beaches, dense green forests and exquisite marine life. 

Recently, I had the pleasure of vacationing on Oahu for two weeks. Anxious to get to the beach and stare at the turquoise water, my friends and I took a day trip to a town called Waimanalo, home of Sealife Park and Hawaii Pacific Universities Oceanic Campus. Sitting on a large stretch of beach chatting with friends taking in the scene, I began to notice something a little disturbing. In the sand there were bright colored pieces of plastic littered everywhere. No one seemed to notice it but me, the marine debris enthusiast. Once I noticed what it was, I could see it everywhere. 

As I sat taking in the sad sight of a tropical paradise poisoned by plastic remains, I realized the immensity of the problem. It struck me that what enters the ocean from our shores, washes up on someone else’s shore thousands of miles away. It doesn’t matter if you’re on vacation, the problem doesn’t go away. Plastic debris still has an immense effect, no matter where you are. Whatever plastic we allow to enter the oceans, will break down into smaller pieces and eventually wash up on someone else’s beach, littering it with undegradable confetti. 

Why did I see so much plastic debris on this beautiful beach in Waimanalo? Waimanalo beach is Oahu’s largest beach, stretching over 5 miles long, and is located along Oahu’s windward shore. The northeasterly trade winds hit this coastline first, dumping any floating trash onto the pristine beach. The steady trade winds and ocean currents create windrows, long visible lines on the surface of the ocean where material such as seaweed, bubbles, phytoplankton and plastic accumulate. These windrows travel with the wind and, in this case, are dumped on Waimanalo’s long coastline. 

Even though I was on vacation, forgetting about work and bills, I still could not escape the problem of plastic debris. Once I pointed the plastic out to my friends, a silence fell over us and I could see the hurt in their eyes as well. This shows that debris we let slip into our ocean, willingly or not, doesn’t disappear into the vast incomprehensibility of the ocean, it ends up somewhere causing problems for marine life and marine enthusiasts. Removing plastic debris that can escape into the ocean will make someone else’s beach cleaner. This is everyone’s problem, it affects people in different ways all over the world. We can all help remove and prevent the distant pristine shorelines of our dream vacation littered by our own garbage. 

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