- WSL / Jesse Jennings

Cover photo shows WSL surfer Brisa Hennessy sifting microplastics on the shoreline.

WSLOO Sunset 24 For the Hurley Pro Sunset Beach, the WSL teamed up with Sustainable Coastlines Hawai'i for a cleanup at a remote beach on the northeast shore of O'ahu. - WSL / Jesse Jennings

After a week of blustering trade winds, powerful swells, and ahead of the Hurley Pro Sunset Beach, a group of dedicated WSL employees, surfers, and Sustainable Coastlines Hawai‘i (SCH) volunteers met on a remote beach in northeast O‘ahu, Hawai‘i. The winds had calmed, rains had passed, and the group took a 10-minute walk toward a beach for an early Sunday morning cleanup. This area of O‘ahu, only 7 miles from the most famous surf breaks in the world, is home to native seabirds, nesting honu (sea turtles), and the occasional endangered monk seal. At first glance from above, the casual observer sees a pristine stretch of iconic Hawai‘i coastline… until one takes a closer look.

WSLOO Sunset 24 Volunteers and surfers make their way down to the remote beach. - WSL / Jesse Jennings

Peppering the sand from the water line to the vegetation line of native dune plants like naupaka kahakai, is an astonishing mixture of micro, meso, and macro plastics… marine debris - the focus of our cleanup. SCH's energized (re)Learning team used volunteers as props to do a live demonstration of how the plastic vortex (Great Pacific Garbage Patch) swirls plastic around in the ocean currents, breaking it up into smaller and smaller pieces, that eventually spit out onto Hawaiian beaches from Kahuku to the low-lying atolls of Papahānaumokuākea. For the next hour, volunteers grabbed sand sifters provided by SCH and took on the immense task of filtering these tiny plastic fragments out of the sand. In those moments of cleaning, SCH team members sat in the sand with other volunteers and "talked story" - sharing information about the debris. Volunteers learned about nurdles, pre-production plastic pellets that are often spilled into waterways or off boats by the world's largest fossil fuel and chemical companies, discussed the impacts of industrial fishing, and understood that convenience culture's proliferation of single-use plastic packaging was the biggest, yet sometimes invisible, culprit, to ocean plastic pollution. What we see on the surface is only the beginning as most plastic items sink into the water column.

WSLOO Sunset 24 WSL surfer Sophie McCulloch holding a collection of sifted plastics. - WSL / Jesse Jennings WSLOO Sunset 24 Mixture of micro, meso, and macro plastics found by Sophie. - WSL / Jesse Jennings

Nonetheless, volunteers worked hard on what was right in front of them, removing tens of thousands of pieces of plastic, temporarily relieving ingestion threats to marine and coastal species, and mitigating at least a little bit of methane emissions that happen when plastic interacts with sunlight. Despite the knowledge that the influx of plastic won't stop until we change human behavior around waste, it was a beautiful morning of connection and giving back. What SCH hopes people walked away with was an understanding that, while important in the immediate moments, cleaning up is not the answer to our bigger problems. Right now, the faucet of plastic in our society is running uncontrollably, causing the metaphorical bath tub to overflow. If we keep bailing out the bathtub (cleaning the beach) with that faucet still on, we will be condemning every generation into the future the task of escalating cleanups in ecosystems becoming inundated with our "waste." We have to turn off the tap!

That's where SCH's solution framework comes in.

Over the past 13 years, Sustainable Coastlines Hawai‘i has built its impact on the concept of gathering community through stewardship, using problems to inspire proactive solutions in homes, communities, and classrooms across Hawai‘i and Island Earth. SCH has made strides in disrupting the status quo of a linear economy by demonstrating and teaching the concepts of resource recovery. We have learned along the way that bringing people together with hands-on activities is a powerful tool to inspire more people to be connected to the resources around them and in turn change their relationship with the throw-away culture that is defining this point in history.

WSLOO Sunset 24 Volunteers and surfers cleaning up the shoreline. - WSL / Jesse Jennings WSLOO Sunset 24 WSL surfer Liam O'Brien, sifting microplastics. - WSL / Jesse Jennings WSLOO Sunset 24 Volunteers gathering the 26 lbs of plastic collected. - WSL / Jesse Jennings

Back on-site at the WSL contest just around O‘ahu's northeast corner, the SCH SustainEvents team was setting up for another year of waste diversion, now renamed "Resource Recovery." The SCH Resource Recovery & SustainEvents program aims to redefine our relationship with waste. We have been taught for over a century that we can just throw things "away," but the reality is that "away" oftentimes means in landfills that are overflowing, into incinerators that produce toxic emissions, or shipped to our poorest and most vulnerable communities... leading to land-based pollution, marine debris, and excessive greenhouse gas emissions. All things that we saw firsthand on our beaches. Out of sight, out of mind means that we lose sight of the energy, resources, and human capacity it takes to create things and dispose of them.

Our SustainEvents program has partnered with WSL on Oahu's north shore for the last decade to change these narratives. The SCH team works on the ground to sort waste, have conversations with attendees, and take what was once considered "waste" to the right places that give it another life. Food waste is taken to the SCH & Full Circle Farm compost machine to create healthy soil (check out the results at Leftover Love Co.), recyclables are sorted to support Bottles 4 College (a nonprofit started by a local teenager, Genshu Price, who uses redemption money for scholarships for Hawaiʻi's students), staff and athlete lunches are served in Full Cycle Take Out reusable containers, and cardboard is shredded to be used for weed matting and compost. You can dive deeper in learning about the compost machine by checking out the first in a series of videos shared on the SCH Youtube channel.

Each year, the events see more progress towards the ultimate goal - having nothing in the "trash." Our diversion rate has improved from 55% to 80% over the years, meaning that at the most recent events, 80% of the "waste" is now being recovered and repurposed. In 2023 alone we converted 3000 + lbs of food waste into compost from just two events. This all adds up to incredible progress that can be modeled locally and globally. We have a long way to go in helping our communities understand the possibilities, but this partnership between SCH & WSL is elevating the conversations and direct action to wider and wider audiences.

You can help us in these efforts by following along with SCH on social channels (@sustainablecoastlineshawaii) or signing up for their newsletter here on their website.

WSLOO SustainEvents The SCH team on the ground working to sort waste, compost, and recycle, while educating fans. - WSL / Kate Dolbier

As surfers, the ocean is our playground and our stadium. Getting involved in protecting and conserving the ocean is critical for us today and for future generations. Show us what you are doing by posting on social media with the hashtag #WSLOneOcean and tagging @wsl and @wsloneocean in your posts. You can learn more and get involved at WSLOneOcean.org.

WSL One Ocean is a global initiative supported by SHISEIDO and YETI with regional support from MANANALU.

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