Sustainable Coastlines Hawai‘i educational focus follows a narrative journey based on the ideas of Connect, Disconnect, and Reconnect. First, we must understand the connection we have to the planet. Then, we recognize the disconnect that has occurred over the past several decades. Now, we must learn to reconnect with the planet and with each other.
“Just breathe.” It is one of the most common phrases in the world uttered to calm us, to de-escalate conflict, to bring life back to our bodies. Connection begins in a breath. No matter where you are on Island Earth, when we inhale oxygen, we breath in the ocean, we breath in the trees, we breath in everything in between. Our world is built on an intricate web of connections that flow from mauka (mountain) to makai (ocean) and our survival is perpetuated on the strength of visible and invisible networks that link above ground and below ground. From megafauna to microorganism, from soil to sea – we once valued these connections, we participated in them, we shared in the kuleana (privileged responsibility) to honor them. In Hawai‘i, the ahupua‘a is not just a buzzword of cultural past, it is a life of connection from ridge to reef, of pilina (reciprocity), and it exists everywhere still. We must start here. We must know that we have always been connected. We must know that our life depends on us staying connected.
As time passes in a modern society we are pulled and yanked, sometimes forced, sometimes slyly coerced, into disassociation and taught that it is more convenient to leave connection behind. It is easier to forget the raw resources of the earth, to become untethered from the burden of shared responsibility, to let go of the hands that struggle to bring food to your mouth. Convenience is the alluring voice of disconnection and plastic pollution is the touchable, visible manifestation of the disconnect. They represent disregard, arrogance, greed, laziness and they leave our world scarred with visible and invisible consequences: poisoned waters, dead animals, and the ever-looming cloud of a disrupted climate. Plastic pollution’s ship is steered by an ever-growing monster of industry, rowed by the broken backs of the poorest nations, perpetuated by the manipulated minds of the masses, and fueled by the un-replenishable blood of the earth. The SCH beach cleanup is a hands-on walk directly into the heart of the disconnect. It is an educational lesson on what not to do. From single-use straws in the turtle’s nose to reefs shredded by the ghost nets of commercial fishing – the beach cleanup is also an opportunity to have our eyes opened, to begin the walk back towards understanding, to remember the fun that connection can bring, to reconnect with community.
We stand on a bridge and one direction is crumbling in a blinding cloud of oil smoke, potholes becoming sinkholes, skeletons of extinction piling up to block our return journey. That road must be closed. A return on that path is not a possibility if we want to survive. The other part of the bridge is yet to be built; the ocean unfolds in front of our eyes without a platform to take our next step onto. But the outline is there, the support of the bridge is something we have always known, but is rapidly fading, nearing a point where if we don’t kiss the ground, we will lose the ability to know it any longer. Nevertheless, the support is still there, glimmering at us in the salt spray of the whale’s breath, reaching its ewa bird wings towards our troubled and confused minds, screaming at us in the voice of the rising sea and eroding soils, urging us to reconnect, pleading with us to stop and take a breath. We have to take that breath and then start asking questions again. Questions are where we begin our reconnection. Look into your hands at whatever you hold and take a moment to be in wonder, to trace a path backwards along every turn that piece of plastic has taken to become the thing that it is. Plastic pollution may be the dark shadow of disconnection, but it is also the breadcrumb to understand our pathway to reconnection. It starts in our homes with tiny decisions, it strengthens as we elevate understanding and importance of an ahupua‘a mentality, it builds as we gather in community, and it thrives when we ditch convenience by getting active in the world around us. If we take our next steps with an understanding of connection, the bridge will begin to build itself.