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Plastic pollution in the Pacific worse than anticipated

    By Kyler Badten. April 7, 2017 - 4:52 pm

Photo by Dave Hammack at Kahuku Beach or a Hawaiian monk seal surrounded by microplastics.

Hawaii Pacific University students participated in research to help further understand the plight of plastic pollution in the Pacific ocean.

In August 2015, during the largest plastic assessment expedition in history, The Ocean Cleanup Foundation discovered more plastic marine debris than anticipated as HPU marine biology student Dave Hammack said, “We expected to come back with about 200 kg of debris, but ended up with well over 4 tons.”

The month-long expedition was named the Mega Expedition and its purpose was to collect data that will help with future efforts to cleanup the plastics that have already entered our oceans. Founder of The Ocean Cleanup, Boyan Slat, hopes to begin extracting plastics from the Pacific Ocean by 2020.

Photo by Dave Hammack of Kyler Badten filming a ghost net at Kahuku Beach.

Hammack was aboard the main ship, the Ocean Starr, during the Mega Expedition which sailed through the Pacific from San Francisco, Calif. to the largest and most notable ocean current, the North Pacific gyre; also known as The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Plastics that enter the ocean are at the whims of the oceans currents and often enter large circular surface currents called gyres.

As the ship entered the heart of the North Pacific gyre, Hammack and the crew noticed as the sea became calmer the debris became more visually abundant, he said,  “I remember looking over the edge [of the ship] and seeing thousands and thousands of pieces of tiny plastics.”

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)  Hawaii is susceptible to large amounts of marine debris that settles along the coastlines because of Hawaii’s location at the southern edge of the North Pacific gyre. Although much of Hawaii’s pollution comes from the mainland United States and Eastern Asia, Hawaii is a major contributor to the plastic pollution problem as well.

According to Consumer Preference and Willingness to Pay for Non-Plastic Food Containers in Honolulu, USA, “In Hawaii, 72 percent of all marine debris by weight consists of plastics.” Also Hawaii is the largest consumer of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam, per capita, in the United States.

Marine scientist Douglas J. McCauley, says that Hawaii throws over 50,000 pounds of polystyrene away every single day, much of which comes from plate lunches. McCauley also adds that recycling polystyrene is nearly impossible because it’s economically infeasible.

Foam bans have taken place is several cities around the United States in an effort to cut back on unnecessary single-use plastics. Maui county is moving forward in an attempt to ban polystyrene.

According to biology and environmental science student at HPU Polly Miller, there was a court hearing on Feb. 7 regarding the foam ban at Hawaii State Capitol Building.

Keiko Conservation and One Ocean Diving will be hosting a beach cleanup at Kahuku Beach on March 5 from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.