Hawaiʻi Pacific University’s acclaimed Center for Marine Debris Research (CMDR) recently concluded a study that confirmed what island residents have long believed: that most of the pollution washing up on Hawaiʻi’s shores originates abroad. Published in the journal, Environmental Science and Technology, the CMDR study revealed that while much of the pollution found on the Leeward beaches does typically originate from Hawaiʻi’s tourists and residents, the greater amounts of debris found on the Windward side of the islands are being swept to Hawaiʻi’s waters from faraway lands.

The most comprehensive study of its kind to date, CMDR employed groundbreaking methods to assess and compare plastic marine debris from four environmental compartments within the islands. The research team collected debris from 11 beaches, three sea surface tows, and from the seafloor at three dive sites. In all, the team analyzed 4,671 pieces of plastic, then employed chemical analysis to identify the types of plastic, explaining that polymers lighter than seawater are floating ashore on Windward beaches from far away, while heavier polymers are sinking near their original source.

These major findings were made in CMDR’s collaborative spirit with critical partnerships with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, as well as local beach cleanup organizations, including Sustainable Coastlines, 808 Cleanups, Hawai’i Wildlife Funds, Surfrider Foundation, Swell Consulting, and SHARKastics.

“This discovery is so important because we are now able to tell a more complete story about how global pollution is affecting our islands,” said Jennifer Lynch, Co-Director of the CMDR. “Unfortunately, the results of this study and several others we are undertaking at the Center are showing that Hawai’i is one of Earth’s most plastic polluted places. With these findings we will be able to find proactive solutions to reduce and prevent this persistent problem here in Hawaiʻi.”

“Plastic doesn’t belong in our oceans, on our beaches, or in our seafood,” said Kayla Brignac, Assistant Research and Laboratory Manager at the CMDR. “We hope that the work we do here, through our great partnership with HPU, will allow us to continue to make strides in this field and create a positive impact in Hawaiʻi.”

The CMDR’s goal is to help eliminate plastic waste from Hawaiʻi’s waters and create a trash-free ocean environment, while investigating the impact of marine debris and distributing knowledge about clean ocean awareness initiatives and stewardship.

To learn more about HPU’s Center for Marine Debris Research and their important work, visit www.hpu.edu/cncs/cmdr.