KAILUA-KONA — A swell of conservation has been building over the last quarter century.
What started as an idea as small as a grain of sand has grown from a group effort to tidy up local beaches to a region-wide event that attracts more than 1,000 volunteers caring for Hawaii’s beaches, from Puako to South Point.
And to carry on the 25-year tradition, the annual West Hawaii Community Beach Cleanup is hosting a cleanup starting at 8 a.m. March 3 at Old Kona Airport Park.
“It’s all about giving back,” said Jeff Fear of Big Island Wave Riders Against Drugs, a primary organizer of the event.
The idea behind the cleanup is simple: Everyone who lives in Hawaii has a responsibility to take care of the land. That means tourism, ocean-related businesses, locals, part-timers and those who just moved here.
“You want to live here? Give back to the community,” he said.
The effort is spearheaded by an array of local groups and organizations, including Big Island Wave Riders Against Drugs, the Betty Kanuha Foundation, Keep Puako Beautiful and others.
Given the sheer manpower that takes to the beaches every year, Fear estimated the undertaking saves the county more than $400,000 each year.
At the March event, volunteers can get a T-shirt and sign up to clean up at the beach of their choice before heading out armed with gloves and trash bags.
After a few hours of cleaning the beaches, lunch, raffles and more festivities will round out the event back at Old Kona Airport Park.
While the annual event’s repeat volunteers always are sure to come out, the reason why they have to is a depressing one.
They come out consistently because they’re at wit’s end with the way the area’s beaches are trashed.
“They’re fed up with the pollution, the cigarette butts, the homeless,” he said. “We’re just fed up.”
Last year, more than 1,000 volunteers took part, not to mention the uncounted many more who took part without officially signing up, Fear noted.
At Old Kona Airport Park alone, he said, volunteers took out an estimated 15 tons of trash. And it’s not just cigarette butts — although volunteers last year picked up more than 50 pounds of those too — a collage of photographs from last year’s event included pictures of tires and satellite dishes among the trash rounded up.
The big focus is always microplastics, the result of larger plastic debris that gets degraded into tiny pieces over time.
Those microplastics pollute the sand and ocean, get consumed by fish, which in turn are consumed by people.
And while the big event is an annual affair, cleaning up the beach is a year-round mindset, Fear said, saying everyone can do their part to clean up a little when they’re out at the beach.
“It’s not just a one-day thing,” he said. “If you go to the beach, go home with more than what you brought.”
And if groups want to organize their own cleanup in the middle of the year, Fear invited them to contact him and he’ll help in whatever way he can.
Because in the end, he said, it’s about keeping the land in a condition that can be enjoyed by generations to come.
“It’s about the children — all about the children — giving back to the community and taking care of the land,” he said. “We’re just caretakers. We need to take care of what we got.”