Help our ocean
By Zenaida Serrano
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Zenaida Serrano
Our ocean has taken a brutal beating within the past month, with sewage spills and dangerous runoff from heavy rain contaminating beaches in Waikiki, Windward O'ahu and on Kaua'i.
The disasters were exacerbated by natural forces beyond our control, but they remind us that our activities — building residences near the beach, moving earth, depositing the residue of motor exhaust on roads to run off into storm drains — affect our coastal waters.
And while subduing heavy rains and sewage spills may be beyond our grasp, everyone can play a part in protecting the ocean, said David Helvarg, president of the Blue Frontier Campaign, a national grass-roots organization that supports efforts to protect the ocean.
Our personal habits and our buying patterns can translate into good or bad news for the ocean environment, Helvarg said via telephone from Washington, D.C., where the Blue Frontier Campaign is based.
The veteran journalist turned ocean activist is the author of a new book, "50 Ways to Save the Ocean," published by Inner Ocean Publishing on Maui. The book explores simple, everyday actions that protect and restore the ocean — from recycling plastic to buying locally grown produce.
"I just (met) a lot of people who understood how much they get out of the oceans, understood the oceans were in trouble ... and wanted to give something back, but weren't sure how," Helvarg said.
Hawai'i Kai resident and avid surfer Dean Otsuki "gives back" by picking up trash during his daily walks along windward beaches.
"I always think, 'think globally, act locally' because that's what it comes down to," said the graphic designer, 43. "Every person can do something, and it adds up."
The actions of one person can have a far-reaching impact on the world's waters, said Carey Morishige, who addresses the threat of ocean trash as marine debris outreach coordinator for the University of Hawai'i Sea Grant College Program.
"Remember that our land and our ocean, especially in an island state like we live in, are so interconnected," Morishige said. "Everything that we do on land in some way, shape or form affects the ocean."
Simple choices can make the biggest difference, Helvarg said.
You may feel like your individual actions don't count, but people who are conscious of their individual behaviors can have huge effects, he said.
One place to start is by making smart food choices, such as eating organic and vegetarian foods.
"That means we're using less nutrient-rich synthetic fertilizers and chemicals in the way we grow food," Helvarg said, "and that surplus of agricultural chemicals won't run off into the ocean."
If you eat beef, consider eating cattle that were grass-fed rather then corn-fed, because "that reduces the use of pesticides," Helvarg said.
Also consider buying from a farmer's market and eating locally grown foods, which can reduce the amount of petroleum used to transport foods from abroad.
"And it supports local farmers," he said. "You find that local family-based farming tends to be labor-intensive, less chemical-dependent and therefore very beneficial to the environment."
Saving energy is another way to save our seas. Energy conservation reduces the impact of power plants, which can poison ocean waters and fish, Helvarg said.
Helvarg suggests energy-saving solutions such as turning off lights and the television when you leave a room, and installing solar paneling and solar water-heating systems to save electricity.
"A lot of the solutions we suggest ... are ways that not only help the ocean, but you save money for yourself," he said.
Aside from making eco-conscious food and energy choices, there are many other things people can do in their everyday lives to help the ocean, said Melody Heidel, who oversees the Blue Water Campaign as conservation organizer of the Sierra Club, Hawai'i chapter.
Like throwing trash where it belongs, recycling, and preventing chemicals and pollutants from going down storm drains or sinks.
Apply lawn and garden chemicals sparingly, or consider using natural alternatives to man-made chemicals, recommends Tamara Wilbourn, an environmental health specialist. Control soil erosion on your property by planting ground cover.
"Water quality issues are of critical importance globally, but residents in Hawai'i should be especially concerned because of our unique and sensitive ecosystem," said Wilbourn, of the state Department of Health Clean Water Branch's polluted runoff control program.
Learning about the issues concerning Hawai'i's waters, and spreading the word to family and friends are also important, Heidel said: "Often people just aren't aware of the connections and relationships between our behavior and the environment, and if they become aware, they might choose to live their lives a little differently."
Awareness is the key to creating positive change, she said: "Learn about your environment and how you can take an active role in protecting it."
Keeping the beaches and ocean clean starts with you, said Peter Cole, chairman of the Surfrider Foundation's O'ahu chapter, an organization that works to protect our oceans, waves and beaches.
"People go to the beach and too often they just leave their litter," Cole said. "There are receptacles at almost every beach ... and there's no reason why they can't pick up after themselves."
Cole asks surfers and regular beach-goers to take ownership of their beaches and dispose of trash appropriately, even if it isn't their own. Discarded plastic, cigarette butts and other trash is deadly to ocean life. Trash can combine with debris from fishing boats and other man-made sources to choke coral, foul beaches and strangle whales, seals and other marine life.
"If people would become more conscious of that and just not walk over it and ignore it, then you'd see a totally different environment," he said.
Entire communities should make an effort to take care of their beaches, added Morishige, the marine debris outreach coordinator with UH.
For example, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's marine debris program is funding a project in the southern part of the Big Island that depends on the communities to participate by cleaning up nearby waters, Morishige said.
"Just because that is their area, their home and their backyard," she said. ... "You know, to instill a pride in the land and to make the communities really want to get involved."
An active role also means reporting environmental violations — such as runoff problems — to the proper agencies, Heidel said.
The Blue Water Campaign's hot line is open to anyone with an environmental concern or complaint.
If you see a potential water hazard, "rather then just assuming someone else will notify (the proper agency) and take care of it, if you as an individual do it, it will help minimize and lessen the problems that we have," Heidel said.
Another way to contribute to cleaner waters is to volunteer with local organizations dedicated to protecting the ocean, Helvarg said.
"It's going to take action by people supporting and getting involved with what I call the 'seaweed rebels,' or marine grassroots groups," he said.
The Surfrider Foundation and other agencies hold monthly beach cleanups, while the Sierra Club's Blue Water Campaign trains volunteers in water quality regulations and how to respond to environmental complaints.
Otsuki, the Hawai'i Kai surfer, is active with the Surfrider Foundation and has volunteered for other environmental groups.
"I've noticed even a couple extra hands can make a really, really big difference," he said.
TAKING AN ACTIVE ROLE TO HELP THE ENVIRONMENT
More tips from ocean activist and author David Helvarg in "50 Ways to Save the Ocean":
Go surfing. It's "an incredibly sustainable sport," Helvarg said. "It depletes nothing out of the ocean, but even then, you want to give something back." Here are a few ways you can both surf and protect the waves: pick up any litter you encounter on the beach or in the water, and respect those in the water with you, including marine animals. If you're surfing a popular beach, obey the rules on designated board-surfing areas and times.
Eat seafood that's healthy and sustainable. Choose wild Alaskan salmon rather than salmon from fish farms, whose wastes can pollute surrounding waters, or choose to order abundant species like calamari and Pacific halibut rather than overfished species such as orange roughy, grouper and shark. Patronize stores and restaurants that support sustainable, healthy fisheries.
Drive a fuel-efficient car, join a car pool or use public transport. Tailpipe emissions are a major source of ocean pollution, Helvarg said. Consider buying a hybrid car, such as the Toyota Prius; walk or bike for short errands; and maintain your vehicle properly, with regular oil changes and tune-ups, to dramatically increase vehicle life and reduce emissions.
Restore a stream, river or watershed. As thousands of rivers and streams empty into our oceans, they can add to either the health or the decline of our living seas, Helvarg said. Work with groups carrying out cleanup projects in your local streams and rivers. These may include high school and university classes, and environmental, fishing, boating or watershed groups.
Visit the Waikiki Aquarium, Sea Life Park or the Maui Ocean Center. Local aquariums can help visitors learn about the amazing diversity of life in the sea and how to protect it, Helvarg said. Get involved in an aquarium volunteer program, which often includes conservation-related activities, and learn which conservation and community development efforts your aquarium sponsors.
Reach Zenaida Serrano at firstname.lastname@example.org.