And the numbers are disturbing.

The gorgeous, whitish, sugary textured beach along Kailua Bay is known around the world as one of the best. But this winter, it’s taken on a much different look. The rough surf and h3 winds have churned up a lot more than the black seaweed that is occasionally strewn over the sand.

When I walked the beach a few weeks ago, the beach was covered with zillions of tiny pieces of colored plastic, laying there like a brand-new layer of pseudo-sand. The litter started to the left of the public access, near Kalapawai Market. It became most concentrated in the area in front of Kalama Beach Park.

In some places, the plastic was deposited in ribbons that mirrored the falling shore break, and in others, it was massed in with other natural debris that we normally see in the winter. When walking back, I was stopped by a visitor who was obviously concerned by what she saw.

“What is this stuff? Did it break off of the reef?,” she asked. I was too sad to smile at her naivety. Actually, I asked the same question years ago when I saw this happen my first winter here. But this is the most severe I’ve ever seen it. When I explained it was all plastic, the lady was shocked but looked closer and began to recognize the bits and pieces of everyday items we use and then discard.

Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, a local group that hosts beach clean-ups, calls these specks of plastic, microplastic . They come from larger pieces that have escaped from the Garbage Patch in the North Pacific Ocean. Sunshine degradation breaks them down before the churning ocean currents push them to our shores.

It is coming in limitless amounts, and it is extremely hard to gather when cleaning the beach. The day after my walk, I saw on Facebook that some other women were going to meet for a clean up. I joined them, and we soon realized how tedious and frustrating a chore this was. We tried all kinds of sifters, but none worked.

Recently, I’ve seen numerous posts by others wanting to clean the plastic. It’ll take a massive effort though. I ended up with a bucket of mixed sand, wood debris and plastic, which I brought home with me. I decided to add water and skim the plastic that floated to the surface. When you see how much of a small bucket of sand is made up of plastic, it’s a very sad sight.

The ocean is never consistent, so if you visit you might not see any of the debris at all. Within a week, the beach could be covered again. I ask, if you are so inclined, to make your own attempt at cleaning just one small area of the beach. It’s a good feeling, albeit a sad one.

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