Our Plastic Age

Yesterday I visited Kamilo Beach for a day of  picking up trash with Hawai’i Wildlife Fund. I had no idea what I was getting into.  After a long, bumpy, but pleasant ride over silty roads and a’a lava we arrived at a beautiful beach interspersed with tan sands, lava rock, tide pools, and crawling heliotrope bushes.

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The view from the rock crawler near Kamilo Beach.

Hawai’i Wildlife Fund organizers handed out burlap sacks and re-purposed feed bags and we dispersed across the few miles of shoreline. I walked aimlessly for a good 5 minutes, consumed by the overwhelming amount of plastic and my sadness. Then, I heard “focus on the big pieces” from a distance. “Ah yes the big pieces! The big pieces breakdown into little pieces, which are much harder to retrieve” I said to myself and began the hot, stinky, sticky process of picking up plastic. I found lighters, a toothbrush, fabric softener bottles, legos, a windshield scraper, umbrella handles, booeys, industrial fishing nets, oyster spacers, buckets, plastic bags, and uncountable, unidentifiable plastic objects.

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Some larger plastic objects found deep in the Heliotrope brush at Kamilo Beach. Booeys, buckets, a hard hat, oil containers, baskets, and more.

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Smaller plastic objects at Kamilo Beach. 

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Truck full ‘o’ nets

I had read about Kamilo Beach back in 2012 when I was preparing for my first visit to Hawaii Island; though I only knew its name as Trash Beach. A beach being famous for its’ trash rather than its importance to ancient Native Hawaiians who went their to retrieve large evergreen logs that the special currents floated in or for its importance as endangered Monk Seal habitat. I knew that this beach was polluted with plastic 6 inches and deeper into the sand. It turns out, thanks to ocean currents, its remote location, and the pacific garbage patch nearly every type of plastic trash from nearly any country bordering the pacific washes up there. It’s not just a Local problem it’s a Global problem. Kamilo, is the beach where a new kind of rock is made, the plastiglomerate, which is plastic fused with rock, shell, and any other debris you can think of.  A study published by the Geological Society of America, says that this plastiglomerate could be THE anthropogenic marker in the future of the rock record.

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An example of Plastiglomerate at Kamilo Beach

I am not saying we are all awful people, at least not today. I am saying that we opened our arms to this product that by most accounts made our lives easier and lighter, but at the same time did little to understand what side effects might come with the ease of convenience. We see it now, for plastic is everywhere: in our bodies, homes, pets, waterways, streets, our wild lands. The year 1939 saw a great demand for the production of plastic thanks to the scarcity that surrounded World War II: 75 years of plastic production and use has brought us to this pivotal point. The point where we continue to depend solely on volunteers to clean up an impossible amount of plastic only to be sure that more plastic used by more people will end up there. Or we could begin to set aside our apathy, our faulting of  “they and them” for these issues, and each of us can begin taking steps towards a lot less plastic.

Lug your mug, avoid excessive packaging and buy bulk, use (and wash) re-usable bags,  think glass or metal, recycle, support bag bans, write companies asking for alternative packaging, stay informed and lets lobby for less plastic, buy art like that made by Kathleen Crabill of Nurdle in the Rough Jewelry. A lovely person I met at Kamilo Beach, who attends these events, not only to help clean up the plastic, but also to retrieve materials for her beautiful jewelry. Kat is just as sorrowed as I am about our plastic pollution problem and part of her role in helping is to create conversation starter pieces, beautiful reminders of our work to be better consumers. Plus, 10% of her profits go to support marine conservation organizations! Our culture is a spectacular one, we are innovative, fast moving, connected. There are no good reasons for this to continue.

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Up-cycled earrings by Kathleen Crabill. Visit her website, she not only has beautiful jewelry, but some great information too! Visit: http://www.nurdleintherough.com

I would like the archaeologist of our future to look back on the rock record and say that, “this culture, this Plastic Age that we so clearly see in the rock record was short-lived on a geologic time scale, maybe only 100 years. This culture for reasons unknown to us drastically reduced their use of this ‘plastic material’ in their society and in the end seemed to utilize it in art and jewelry. Today we still have to cope with some of the negative effects of this Plastic Age, but we owe sincere gratitude to those who may have lead the movement to curb plastic use.”

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All hands in everybody! We did it! 

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The clean up crew of the day. 

Malama A’ina a me Kai,

Kallie

Some Links(!):

How to Help 

16 Simples Ways to Reduce Plastic Waste 

100 Steps to a Plastic Free Life 

Act Now Surfrider Foundation

Reduce your use of plastic

Tips to use less plastic  

Prevention, Control, and Reduction: Plastics 

Kamilo Beach

What happens to all that plastic?

Restoring Plastic Beach to Kamilo Point 

Plastic rocks wash up on Kamilo Beach

Plastic Debris in the Ocean

A Message in the Waves

Agalita Marine Research Institute 

NOAA Marine Debris Program

5 Gyres 

Swirling Seas of Plastic Trash 

An anthropogenic marker horizon in the future of the rock record 

All about plastic

History of Plastics 

Plastic Pollution Coalition

Bryson Education 

Health

NPR Study: Most Plastics Leach Hormone-Like Chemicals 

Ecology Center Adverse Health Effects of Plastics 

Web MD Pots, Pans, and Plastics: A Shopper’s Guide to Food Safety 

Pub Med Plastics and Health Risks 

Pub Med Public health of impact of plastics: An overview 

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An Hommage to Bees

This past week at the farm I was able to learn how to collect hives, process the combs, and fill jars of honey. I was stung only once that day. I had been off for about an hour and completely checked out from my honey processing day when she flew straight into the back of my head.

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All in all, it was an up and down sort of week for me. Working with the bees coincided with that.

I eat honey on the regular, I think its delicious and if there were a nectar of the gods, honey would definitely bee (you see that?) it. Still, quite a bit of chaos and death ensues when you collect honey from a hive. There are confused bees everywhere trying to cling to the golden and bursting combs. Some die in the process of inspecting hives, getting squished as you carefully move and replace frames. Some die in the moving process. Some drown in the honey that is collected while they try feverishly to suck as much up their proboscises as possible. Some just die because they only live for around 6 months. There is a lot of death and it was something that was at the forefront of my mind as I sampled different combs in the collection process.

A lot of time, energy, and lives are put into the jars of honey we sometimes consume so unconsciously and that should warrant some more respect and thought on our side.

I could write a book about how amazing honey bees are, but so many other, more qualified, individuals have done so. My favorite? A Short History of Honey Bees: Humans, Flowers, and Bees in the Eternal Chase for Honey by E. Readicker-Henderson. It’s a beautifully written book and the photographs that accompany it are equally magnanimous. It’s the type of book where the author and photographer have a love of honey bees that pops right out of the pages and possesses you.

 a-short-history-of-honey-bees

From now and into the future I hope to bee a whole lot more thankful and picky about the honey I consume. There are some very destructive apiary practices out there that include the use and over use of pesticides and pollinator exploitation(Click here for a good overarching article on the topic).

With that I want to give a shout out to the non-honey makers, the stinger-less, the hive-less, the native bees. While honey bees make the nectar of the Gods, native bees have some important attributes too.  The native bees are much more effective pollinators than the honey bee meaning they help plants produce more fruit! They are smaller and can get all up in the flower 😉 Also, thousands of years of evolution have tied them closely to the native plants on the islands.

Photo by Karl Magnacca

The illusive Hawaiian yellow-faced bee.                                  Photo by Karl Magnacca

Still, these native bees are struggling, as are there foreign counterparts the honey bees, though for slightly different reasons. The consensus seems to be that the Hawaiian yellow-faced bee has succumb to habitat loss, predation by ants (no ants are native to the islands!) and wasps, and competition with the honey bee. We have also had a hard time studying and researching them and know little about their habits.

There are around 60 Hawaiian bee species, all descended from one common ancestor of the Hylaeus genus. These bees in Hawaii account for 10% of all the Hylaeus species in the world! Sounds like a lot of bees right?

Well, Let us do a little math:

10 species are possibly extinct

+

7 species are restricted to endangered habitat

+

10 species are rare and potentially endangered

+

5 species have not been collected recently

= 32 out of the approximate 60 species of native bees occupying the Hawaiian Islands have a bleak future if they have one at all!

There goes half the species of Hawaiian bees!

This, unfortunately, is not a dire situation on the Hawaiian Islands, there is a long list of endangered and threatened Hawaiian plants and animals. If you combined all the endangered and threatened species from every other U.S. state, Hawaii still has more. The Hawaiian bees are going to have to wait in line.

However, just as with most challenges facing our society there are things YOU/WE can do. A few that come to mind:

1) Get outside and support your National Parks, they provide some of the last remaining intact habitat for many creatures, not just bees.

2) Grow some native flowers in your garden! Not only will you help the bees, but you might help some other creatures too.

3) Get informed! Know where your honey comes from and the methods they use to produce it. Bad apiary practices affect more than just the honey bees.

Hopefully, I didn’t end up on too dire of a note. There’s always something you can do, but sometimes you have to discover it yourself. So go, discover, make a difference.

Aloha nui loa,

Kallie

Resources and additional readings:

http://scholarspace.manoa.hawaii.edu/bitstream/handle/10125/22606/vol61n2-173-190.pdf?sequence=1

http://www.xerces.org/2011/09/08/seven-hawaiian-bees-deserve-but-dont-get-endangered-status/

http://raisingislands.blogspot.com/2013/03/a-case-for-hawaiian-native-bee.htmlhttp://dlnr.hawaii.gov/ecosystems/nicp/projects/yellow-faced-bee/

http://www.xerces.org/hawaiian-yellow-faced-bees/

http://ecos.fws.gov/speciesProfile/profile/speciesProfile.action?spcode=I0VL

http://www.researchgate.net/publication/232689700_Conservation_Status_of_the_Endemic_Bees_of_Hawaii_Hylaeus_(Nesoprosopis)_(Hymenoptera_Colletidae)

http://scholarspace.manoa.hawaii.edu/bitstream/handle/10125/22606/vol61n2-173-190.pdf?sequence=1

http://www.hawaiibeekeepers.org/history.php

http://www.xerces.org/hawaiian-yellow-faced-bees/#

2 Weeks on the Big Island

I made it to Hawaii! I have wanted to move here for a couple of years now and I did it! I am relishing in all the new and beautiful creatures, geologic features, weather, people, and beaches I get to experience and learn about. I have made my way here thanks to World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. “Woof, Woofing, and Woofer” are some of the terms you might hear  when referring to what I am doing, which is basically apprenticing on a farm where I learn to plant, weed, pick, and process a whole slew of foods. At Paradise Meadows Orchard and Bee farm we focus on bees, macadamia nuts, honey, Ka’U coffee, chocolate, and an aquaponics garden.

I have been here for 14 Days. SO far living here has been a dream come true, but that does not mean it has been all sunshine and rainbows.

I’ve learned some Big Island lessons:

1) It’s hard to get around here. Everything is further than it seems and there is a less than mediocre bus system. The Big Island bus system schedule, called “Hele-On,” is almost impossible to decipher and I’ve heard some horror stories about late and broken down buses. Though it is only $2 to, basically, get around the entire island: Beggars can’t be choosers!

2) There are little to no local food products in the grocery stores. Considering that most of the Big Island has a 52 week growing season, it’s quite appalling that this food isn’t making its way into the most popular food stops. In fact nearly 90% of the food here on the Big Island is imported from the Mainland.

3) Lava rock has a terribly painful and unforgiving nature about it. While surreal and unbelievably beautiful in that barren-landscape-sort-of-way, you roll ankles, get scraped, and cut really easily. It’s not as soft and cushy as that Colorado granite. Makes sense, really, that’s why we use it to scrape dead skin cells of our body!

4) The insects (namely, the venomous ones) are always out to get you when you live/work/play in the outdoors. I have fallen victim to the Asian Tiger Mosquito and nearly victim, on too many occasions, to the centipede. The Tiger Mosquito is aptly named: They are so freaking stealthy that I almost never feel them.

Photo by Susan Ellis @ bug world.org

Aedes Albopticus, the Asian Tiger Mosquito, the stealthy vector of many diseases. Photo by Susan Ellis @ bug world.org

The centipede bite, however,  has been described as being either like a “bad bee sting or bad gunshot wound” and I really, really don’t want to find out. Here’s a video(with a hint of jazz) of one Centipede we found. My reaction to the Tiger Mosquito has been painful, so it would just figure that I’d have the “gunshot wound” reaction to the centipedes.

On a side, there are some pretty neat and non-venomous stuff here too. Check out this Hawaiian garden spider! When you run into their webs, which is inevitable, it’s nice to know that you won’t suffer a debilitating and possibly deadly bite!

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Argiope Appensa, the non-venomous Hawaiian Garden Spider. Photo by Kallie Barnes

On a more “aww” note I was granted the opportunity to release the critically endangered Hawksbill Sea Turtle after an impromptu 2.5 mile trek, over unforgivable lava rock, to Pohue Bay. It was a dream I had in my head that I never thought would come true so effortlessly and quickly… I cried from the sheer gratitude I felt.

The stunning adult Hawksbill Sea Turtle, Eretmochelys imbricata.  They start at a a mere .5 ounces and can grow to weigh 150 pounds. Loss of habitat and the consumption of both their eggs and meat have seriously endangered them. Photo Credit:  Seaturtlecamp.com

The stunning adult Hawksbill Sea Turtle, Eretmochelys imbricata. They start at a mere .5 ounces and can grow to weigh 150 pounds. Loss of habitat and the consumption of both their eggs and meat have seriously endangered them. They are known to be quite unique among the sea turtles! Photo by Seaturtlecamp.com

Here’s a video of about 5 of the 11 hatchlings we released. Listen to the huge waves crashing and you can see them just a wee bit at the end of the video.

The success rate for these little guys even making their way to waters edge is around 32.9% according to one study (Harewood and Horrocks 2008). Whereas with the help of volunteers, like those we met, who patrol the nest sites nearly 24/7 the success rate jumps up to, in our particular case, 99.5%! Per the usual, human development including, light pollution, consumption, and drag net fishing have seriously hurt these guys. I may have just released some of the very last Hawksbill Sea Turtles to last this century: A sad yet sobering thought.

I have learned a lot in a couple of short weeks, but the most important lesson has been that of Malama’ Aina,  caring for the land. Hawaii is a beautifully treacherous place with flora and fauna abound. However, Hawaii is in danger everyday of some new invasive species, the clogging of beaches with trash, and the constant dependence on the mainland for nearly all of its’ energy and food.

BUT I knew all of this coming here and its’ one of my main motivating factors for being here. It may seem high and mighty of me and I’m definitely coming out of this with bumps and bruises, but I am here to help and be a role model of Malama’ Aina.  I am starting with learning how to grow my own food and getting to know this new place. Hope you all continue to follow me on my adventures!

Aloha nui loa.

 

 
More Reading, if you are so inclined:

Food
http://grist.org/food/could-small-biodiverse-farms-help-hawaii-grow-enough-food-to-feed-itself/

Hawksbill Sea Turtle
http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/turtles/hawksbill.htm
http://www.seaturtle.org/PDF/HarewoodA_2008_BiolConserv.pdf

Hawaii Adventure
Hawaii, The Big Island Revealed   Written by Andrew Doughty