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Coastal Cleanup Removes 20K Pounds of Debris

By Sage Yamashita, Intern Reporter

Photo courtesy of Sustainable Coastlines.

Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii brought their dedication to Molokai two weeks ago. With a small but impactful team, along with the partnership of community volunteers and local organizations, Molokai’s coastlines were able to breathe a bit freer of coastal pollution. 

Rafael Bergstrom, executive director for Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, said the week was jam packed with marine debris removal. They collaborated with Pu‘u O Hoku Ranch, The Nature Conservancy, Department of Land and Natural Resource’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife and Kalaupapa National Historic Park for efforts along the east and north shores before heading to Mo’omomi on the northwest side.  Sustainable Coastlines also teamed up with Sust’ainable Molokai for a gorilla ogo removal in Kaunakakai last Saturday morning. 

“We’re excited we were doing cleanups on multiple sides of the island,” said Bergstrom. 

In recent years, the group focused on an annual Mo’omomi cleanup because they found that a majority of the island’s marine debris tended to collect there. But that may not be the case anymore. 

“We typically do around 200 people [staff and Molokai community volunteers] in Mo’omomi and cleaning up the coastline, but because of some changing [ocean] currents there’s not as much that’s washing up there and there’s also a lot more [cleanups that] keep happening over in that area with community groups, which is amazing,” said Monica Mclenigan, communications and outreach manager for Sustainable Coastlines.

The team is familiar with getting to those hard to reach, otherwise inaccessible areas of Molokai to remove debris by helicopter. According to Rachael Roehl, director of action for Sustainable Coastlines, a 40 foot container was loaded up with marine debris from their efforts. 

Photo courtesy of Sustainable Coastlines.

While on Molokai, Sustainable Coastlines not only helped clear the coastlines but took the time to pay respect towards the island. They immersed themselves in understanding the place and the people they worked with. Sustainable Coastlines staff said they are so appreciative to be on Molokai because defining impact for them extends well beyond the plastic removed from coastlines and comes from the communities and their service to the greater good. 

“In a world seemingly slipping farther away from meaningful connection and social capital, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii 2022 trip to Molokai was a reminder that community and shared kuleana can be alive and well,” said Bergstrom. 

Mclenigan, said while getting to clean the coastlines of the island, getting to learn from community leaders, as well about the areas that they are working in and the history of the coastline is very special. The team worked in a loko i’a, or fishpond, and shared many moments with community members in learning about the island’s cultural legacy. 

In addition to the cleanups, Sustainable Coastlines brings awareness education to Molokai’s schools. Rebecca Mattos, youth education coordinator for Sustainable Coastlines, said the education team brought their knowledge into Kualapu’u School, Maunaloa Elementary, Kilohana Elementary and Molokai High School. Students learn about plastic pollution and where marine debris is coming in from. The most important part of this education is the emphasis on not only the problem, but the solutions, according to Matos. The team gets youth inspired to do clean ups, create their own solutions and to give back as much as possible with fun activities. 

Photo courtesy of Sustainable Coastlines.

“I think the best way to see the impact is just by seeing how inspired students are after presentations. It is so awesome to be able to show that what you learn in school you can directly give back right away,” Mattos said. 

Sustainable Coastlines removed more than 20,000 pounds of marine debris during their Molokai visit. 

“This trip was another transformational experience for our staff and volunteers who will always carry the lessons, friendships, talk story sessions, and generosity of the Molokai community with them wherever they go,” said Bergstrom.


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