Maui has no more precious natural resource than its ocean. How we use it, and pollute it, affects every aspect of life on our island.
To give you an idea of the ocean’s importance, as well as many fine tips on how to respect it, we’re presenting selected excerpts from David Helvarg’s new book 50 Ways to Save the Ocean, published by Maui’s own Inner Ocean Publishing Company in Makawao (www.innerocean.com), along with special tips at the end of each excerpt telling you how you can help on Maui.
The president of the Blue Frontier Campaign (www.bluefront.org), Helvarg has written extensively on ocean ecology, as well as the AIDS epidemic and fighting in Northern Ireland and Central America, for the Los Angeles Times, Popular Science, The New York Times, Sierra and The Nation. He’s also produced more than 40 documentaries for PBS, The Discovery Channel and others.
On June 13, Helvarg will appear at the Maui Ocean Center in Ma’alaea as part of a nationwide book tour. From 1-3 p.m. he’ll sign books, then give a lecture at 6 p.m. The event is free but seating is limited. For more information please call 270-7075.
SAIL ON AN OCEAN-FRIENDLY CRUISE SHIP
Avoid vacationing on a floating source of pollution.
While ocean liners were once the major transportation for people crossing oceans to work and emigrate, today most people fly, and the old steam liners have been replaced by a new generation of cruise ships built for fun. More than 200 modern cruise ships now carry more than 10 million vacationers on the world’s oceans every year, including more than seven million United States residents, according to industry statistics. These floating vacation palaces, some carrying more people than an aircraft carrier, can be found in every ocean environment from the Arctic seas to the coral reefs of the tropics. As the primary customers of an industry expected to double its passenger load by 2010, American passengers can play a significant role in making sure the ships celebrate the sea and don’t pollute it.
A typical 3,000 passenger cruise ship on a one-week voyage generates one million gallons of “gray water” (from sinks, showers, and laundries); more than 200,000 gallons of sewage; 25, 000 gallons of oily bilge water; more than 100 gallons of hazardous waste (from dry cleaning, photo processing, and other chemical activities); 50 tons of garbage (plastic, paper, cardboard, food and glass); and as much diesel exhaust as several thousand cars. Such a ship also contributes to the spread of invasive species from pumped out bilge water.
Passengers often believe that the ship’s waste is treated or stored for land removal, but in fact most of it is dumped at sea, sometimes illegally. One of the worst impacts of cruise ships may be their discharge of nutrient-rich sewage around coral reefs that thrive in a low-nutrient environment; this destructive method of sewage disposal encourages the growth of algae, which in turn smother and kill coral reefs.
Things can and must change. In 2004, Royal Caribbean pledged to install advanced wastewater treatment systems on its entire 28-ship fleet within the next 15 years. A small number of cruise ships also use gas-turbine engines that reduce harmful air pollutants by up to 90 percent. Alaska, Maine and California have passed laws restricting sewage dumping in their waters, and a national Clean Cruise Ship bill to set higher environmental standards for the industry has been introduced in Congress. Several ocean conservation groups, such as such as Oceana and Blue Water Network, are conducting public education campaigns to help reform the industry. But the greatest force for change can be the millions of Americans who are more than 70 percent of the industry’s customers.
To report sewage dumping, call the U.S. Coast Guard’s pollution hotline at 808-842-2606. The Mayor’s Office final Cruise Ship Task Force report, released Aug. 15, 2005, is available at www.co.maui.hi.us/mayor/cstf.htm. A list of local commercial tour boats that dump their sewage in open waters—as well as a list of those who have their waste pumped out responsibly while in dock—is available at www.pumpdontdump.com, which also has plenty of information on how you can help end the dumping of raw sewage in Hawaiian waters.
USE LESS PLASTIC
The plastic that finds its way to the ocean never stops polluting.
Plastic food wrappers, bags, balloons, bottles, cigarette filters and packaging, monofilament fishing nets and line, Styrofoam pellets and other objects make up about 60 percent of the trash found on beaches and about 90 percent of the debris found floating in the world’s oceans.
Bits of plastic are absorbed or eaten by jellyfish, finned fish, turtles, birds, marine mammals, and other creatures, who mistake the pieces for food. Stranded seals and turtles have been found with their stomachs so full of plastic that they are unable to feed and are starving. Seabirds that mistake plastic pellets for food feed them to their chicks. After a major retail chain store opened on St. Thomas in the U.S Virgin Islands, I noticed that the ferry channel between St. Thomas and nearby St. John was littered with floating bags from the store. Plastic fishnets and cargo strapping entangle sea lions and other creatures, slowly strangling them as they grow larger. Plastic “ghost nets” discarded or lost at sea from fishing boats continue to ensnare and kill marine wildlife, sinking with the weight of their kill until gases formed by the decaying animals float the nets back up to kill again. Unlike cotton fishing nets, these nets never dissolve.
While oil spills are a terrible environmental threat, oil is not nearly as destructive as the accumulation of everyday plastic items; oil eventually biodegrades, but plastic lasts forever. Through a process called photo degradation, sunlight slowly breaks down plastic polymers into pellets and fine dust. A study by the Algalita Marine Research Foundation found that plastic dust in parts of the North Pacific Ocean weighs six times more than zooplankton, the tiny animals that form the base of the marine food web. Marine plastic also acts as a toxic sponge, absorbing pollutants in the water such as PCBs and DDT. It concentrates these poisons tens of thousands of times more than seawater can. When consumed by fish, this poisonous plastic dust becomes part of the food web, increasing the toxic load in the flesh of tuna, billfish, sharks, and other top predators that humans then consume. Studies are now underway to see how these toxins may affect the development and reproduction of marine animals.
Researchers who’ve been tracking marine debris believe plastic in the ocean may be one of the most alarming and least known environmental stories of our time.
An international dumping treaty prohibits all overboard disposal of plastics from ships and boats, but the greatest “pulse” of active debris into the ocean comes from land-based human activities, particularly our habit of discarding plastic packaging material, plastic water bottles and plastic toys. Even plastic bags thrown in the trash and taken to the landfill may be carried by the breeze or out to sea.
At the end of World War Two, plastic was a new creation that, like rayon, was seen as a way to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of rubber and silk. Today every American tosses out about 65 pounds of plastic a year. By reducing demand for plastic and limiting its use to essential purposes we can help save the greater part of our blue planet.
Pu’unene resident and jeweler Mckenna Hallett hates plastic and recycling so much she’s created her own website (www.stoprecycling.com). Check it out for lots of cool ideas on how to stop relying on disposable goods in your life.
DON’T EXPLOIT SEA CREATURES FOR VANITY’S SAKE
Heed Jacques Cousteau’s warning: “The sea is not a bargain basement.”
From coral jewelry to coral calcium, nautilus shells to ground seahorse, turtle oil to shark liver oil, a range of decorative items and supposed health products from the sea are creating profitable markets while depleting the ocean’s natural bounty.
“Semiprecious” black corals are heavily exploited for jewelry even though they’re protected by many nations. To collect deep-ocean pink corals, which take hundreds of years to grow, chains are dragged across the sea bottom, and the broken pieces of coral that become caught in their links are then used for jewelry making. Left behind is the rubble of unique, once-living ecosystems.
More than 100 million slow-breeding sharks are killed every year for their fins, which are used in a tasteless but expensive (and thus high status) soup popular in China. Shark body parts are also used in so-called health products popular in the West, including shark liver oil and shark cartilage. The unsubstantiated benefits claimed for these products in fighting cancer led to a government warning and court injunction against one manufacturer.
By protecting marine ecosystems we’re also protecting a biological treasure trove of potential cures and treatments for human ills that can be harvested without abusing the sea. Two widely used drugs–Acyclovir, which treats herpes, and AZT which fights the HIV-AIDS virus–are derived from compounds first identified in marine sponges. Many other potentially useful drugs are now being developed from marine organisms, including cancer-fighting compounds from soft corals, anti-inflammation chemicals from sea feathers, virus-killing proteins from sea grass molds, and painkillers from cone snails. Scientists involved in prospecting for these promising new biological treatments are also working to synthesize them in the lab, in order to protect rather than deplete the marine sources and habitats that produce them.
The Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council and Richard Grigg, a University of Hawai’i professor of marine biology, monitors all black coral harvesting in local waters. Currently, Aluani’s Black Coral Jewelry (www.mauiblackcoral.com) sells black coral items and operates the only local black coral harvesting boat.
Take only pictures and leave bubbles, while exploring underwater wonders.
It’s been more than half a century since Jacques Cousteau and his friend Emile Gagnan invented the Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (scuba) that allows a diver to swim freely and weightlessly through the water, and, in Cousteau’s words, “feel like you are an angel.” Today, diving and snorkeling have become hugely popular activities, with some five to 10 million Americans scuba-certified and 2 million actively diving on a regular basis. Among the certifying organizations that train people are the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) and the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI). Both teach safe and responsible diving practices, and no one should don diving equipment without having passed these or similar professional courses.
Having become certified some 20 years ago, I’ve witnessed changing conditions on our reefs, in our kelp forests, and in many other parts of our ocean, usually not for the better. I’ve also found that, once exposed to the wonders of our seas—the colorful diversity and mind-boggling variety of life underwater—divers and snorkelers often become leading advocates for the protection and restoration of marine wilderness.
Ironically, through careless behaviors, lack of experience or lack of awareness, underwater visitors can also damage the very wonders they go below the surface to enjoy. In the early days, divers focused a lot on spearfishing and collecting. But sharp declines in abalone, sheepshead and other once-popular marine prey in areas like California have taught local divers to be careful stewards of the marine wilderness they value. Today, far more divers are shooting pictures than spearguns as they seek ways to explore Jacques Cousteau’s “silent world” without harming it.
Every July volunteer divers and snorkelers jump in the water for the Great Annual Fish Count. The idea is to learn not just the numbers and locations of the various creatures that live in the ocean, but how to interact with them responsibly. Dives will take place all over the island and the surrounding waters. For more information, call Liz Foote at 808-669-9062 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
SPEAK FOR THE SEAS AT LOCAL PUBLIC HEARINGS
Active citizenship can help restore our oceans and coasts
More than half the United States population lives near the seacoast, where development is booming (some say sprawling). In California, 80 percent of the residents now live in coastal counties. Of the nation’s 20 fastest growing counties, 17 are coastal; of the 20 largest cities, 14 are coastal. Cities and townships are where most decisions about growth and planning are made. That’s why they are such vital government links in ensuring that your coast and ocean are protected. Don’t think you have to travel to Washington or your state capital; you can affect government decisions by attending local public hearings.
Local zoning boards set building and land use standards that can determine the impact of construction and development on coastal waters and the watersheds that feed into them. A zoning board meeting is a good place to speak out in favor of protecting local wetlands and recreational beaches and of setting high standards of environmental protection for your neighborhood. Departments of sanitation, public works departments, and sewage districts maintain services vital to healthy oceans, including sewage plants, sewage pipes, and storm drains. At these agencies you can advocate for the most advanced treatment to reduce pollution and make sure that the existing infrastructure isn’t being outstripped by growth. Public health departments track the safety of swimming water and locally caught fish but don’t always provide enough public warning or take precautionary measures unless they feel pressure from the public. Water boards allocate water resource use. Developer and agricultural interests often attend meetings of or serve on these boards, but too few people work with them to promote the benefits of maintaining free-flowing water for fish, wildlife and coastal habitat. Park departments establish, maintain and protect recreational beaches and coastal parks. Your good citizenship and participation at the local level can help keep our oceans and coasts healthy and abundant or restore them to that state.
The Maui Planning Commission meets at 9 a.m. on the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month at the Kalana Pukui Building, 250 S. High St., Wailuku. For more information, call 270-7735. The Maui County Council meets at 9 a.m. on the first and third Friday of every month on the eighth floor of the Kalana O Maui Building, 200 S. High St., Wailuku. Agendas are posted at www.co.maui.hi.us/county/clerkSub/Agenda.php. For more information, call 270-7748. For a complete list of county commissions and agencies, visit www.co.maui.hi.us.