Smoke ban a win for kids
By Karin Stanton
By Karin Stanton
Correction: Mayor Harry Kim on Friday, Jan. 19, signed the ordinance prohibiting smoking or disposing of cigarette butts at Kahulu‘u Beach Park. The story published online the following Monday contained incorrect information.
KAILUA, Hawai'i — A group of middle school students is celebrating a victory for marine life at one Big Island beach.
After nearly a year of helping usher a new law through the Hawai'i County Council, the West Hawai'i Fisheries Council youth group is waiting only for Mayor Harry Kim's signature on an ordinance that prohibits smoking or disposing of cigarette butts at Kahalu'u Beach Park.
Kim is expected to sign it soon; violators then may face a fine of $25 to $50.
Inspired by a science fair project, the students got a little more than they bargained for when they invited a county councilwoman to their meeting last year.
They wanted former Kona Councilwoman Virginia Isbell to stop people from smoking at the popular surf and snorkel spot off Ali'i Drive.
The group picked up 2,068 cigarette butts within 30 minutes at the beach and then collected more than 700 signatures to present to Isbell.
Instead of acting on the request and drafting an ordinance, Isbell challenged the students to do it themselves.
"She made us write the ordinance," said eighth-grader Loren Jessup. "After that, we asked if she would bring it to the council, and she did."
Donna Goodale, a member of the fisheries council and the youth group's coordinator, said the students showed perseverance and dedication to the cause, testifying before the council six times in Hilo and Kona.
Five of the council meetings fell during school breaks.
"These kids gave up sailing classes, trips to the beach with their friends, swimming and all the activities they like to work on this," Goodale said. "It is quite a feat they've accomplished."
The group is mostly students at Hualalai Academy, the private school in Kona where Goodale also is a science teacher.
They started with a simple goal: "At first it was just to clean it up and pick up cigarette butts on the beach," said Laura Andersen, who was inspired to conduct a science experiment.
"I measured out little squares on the beach and counted ghost crabs and cigarette butts," the eighth-grader said. "There was a significant correlation between crabs and cigarettes. But I expected that because I didn't expect them to be hanging out around cigarette butts."
She said she also found a nickel and a couple of pennies, plus some drug paraphernalia.
Andersen's project won a Hawai'i Audubon Society award last year at the 49th Hawai'i State Engineering and Science Fair, which encouraged the group to persevere.
After all the work, Nathaniel Goodale was determined to stick around until the final vote at the Jan. 4 council meeting.
"We waited for six hours" in the Kona mayor's office watching the Hilo meeting via video conference, he said.
When the eight council members in attendance finally unanimously passed the measure, the eighth-grader leaped to his feet and raised his arms in victory, getting an appreciative chuckle from council members.
The students acknowledge the new law will be hard to enforce, but they hope to change habits.
"We will personally enforce it," said Allison Alterman.
They plan to post signs at the beach and encourage their friends and families to help them put pressure on noncompliant smokers.
The students said they were pleased with the result of their efforts, but never had much doubt.
"It was all for a good cause and it's harder to turn down kids," Alterman said. "You could crush our little spirits."