Written + Photographed by Jasmine Buerano
Convenience is the thief of time. When we find excuses to lessen the time that we commit to doing something, it’s easy to lose track of it; time, that is. The convenience culture that we are so accustomed to today is a perfect example of this. Slowly but surely, we’re starting to see how the things that were made to save us time such as the use of single-use plastics, automobiles, and even data (data centers produce electronic waste), have an adverse effect on our planet. From the shortening of seasons, to a rapid decline in endemic species throughout all forms of life, we’re running out of time to fix things.
We live in a world where immediacy is the new norm and connectivity with the places and spaces around us is a thing of the past. But in Molokaʻi, that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s a place where stop lights don’t pollute quiet and still streets at night, where you see never ending loko iʻa clinging onto the southeastern coastlines on long drives without cell reception, and where visitors are more of a sore thumb than sore thumbs can be. For almost a decade, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaiʻi staff and volunteers have visited Molokaʻi with support from community members and partners to be of service in cleaning up coastlines and educating Hawaiʻi youth on the long-lasting effects of plastic pollution. How did we end up here?
It was because of a curiosity to learn from one high school student on Molokaʻi that brought us there; it all started with a student named Kamiki Agliam. Almost a decade ago, she had cold called our Co-Founder Kahi Pacarro inquiring about getting him to come out to Molokaʻi to give a talk at her school after learning more about what SCH did with cleanups and education events. And so, the friendships began.
Kamiki took the lessons she had learned back to her ‘ohana and, fully inspired, they jumped into action to conduct a cleanup, inviting Kahi and team from SCH to help plan and execute it. The original Moʻomomi Cleanup was in honor of their late grandfather with a couple hundred people from the community showing up. Now, almost a decade later we continue to visit Molokaʻi with support from the community to see what we can do to help.
“The thing about SCH is we’re there to facilitate, not to lead. We’re there to help them mālama their ‘āina. To this day we are able to learn from how they’ve stewarded that place and support their needs.” - Kahi Pacarro
We invite you to join us as we share what our community partners on the neighbor island of Moloka’i are up to.
Molokaʻi is a place that is connected to all of the things that can bring solace to someone; farming for sustenance, stewarding loko iʻa, knowing your community, or even something as small as waving to cars that slowly drive by. As each day passed, we took time to sow and water both new and old friendships with community members. And with each hour we came to find a common theme throughout our time learning and working with our friends there, “The longer you stare at something, the more you begin to understand it.” Kūpeke Loko Iʻa brought life to this saying.
Coming from an incredibly overdeveloped place like Honolulu, it’s easy to get lost in the fast paced lifestyle tethered to convenience and immediacy. We can forget to spend time understanding something like the food systems that sustain us. As we stood along the exposed shoreline of Kūpeke Loko Iʻa during low tide, we gathered in a circle to learn the moʻolelo of that space and the significance of loko kuapa style fishponds. Stewardship and restoration of this loko iʻa started with native practitioners of manaʻe descent in November of 2018 with permission of Kūpeke fishpond owners. Our SCHtaff was able to learn about the invasive vegetation removal, animal monitoring, and native plant restoration efforts that Laʻa Poepoe currently spearheads, the goal being to restore a balanced ecosystem to the fishpond for subsistence. Unfortunately, we also came up against removing nearly 1000lbs of ghost nets and other marine debris in and around the loko iʻa. The deeper we got into the bush, the more we discovered nets and other large debris tangled up, suffocating the coastline. With an incredible float system, strength, and grit, we extracted this debris and brought it to shore, giving the coast a chance to breathe again.
Growing up, my dad always told me, “Look with your eyes, not your mouth.” I remember so many instances where I thought I had misplaced my sunnies and would always ask, “Does anyone know where my sunglasses are?” having not actually looked hard enough for them myself. During our visit, this was a lesson that was important to adopt - to look with our eyes and not be too quick to speak.
Throughout our visit, we were lucky to be able to connect with other community partners like Sustʻāinable Molokaʻi and ‘Āina Momona, clearing invasive limu (seaweed) species from the shores of Kaunakakai. Invasive species outcompete native plants for dominion in ecosystems and unfortunately, it’s a pervasive issue that occurs from mauka to makai throughout all of Hawaiʻi. Lucky for Hawaiʻi, our community partners have found another use for the invasive limu species: fertilizer. Gracilaria salicornia known to many as ‘gorilla ogo’ was first identified in Hilo Bay on Hawai’i Island, most likely unintentionally by shipping vessels that came from the Philippines.
‘Āina Momona and Sustainable Molokaʻi have found that this invasive species of limu actually acts very well as a dried fertilizer. After removing this limu from Kaunakakai, we went with ‘Āina Momna staff and saw how the process was done as well as saw the seeds they had sowed to create an abundance of food for their community. ‘Āina Momona roughly translates to ‘fat land’ and we learned that the meaning behind this is to have lands rich with food that can nurture and provide to the communities on Molokaʻi. Like Lana said, “The land is a reflection of us.” When profit becomes more important than the planet and we aren’t taking care of our communities, the people we care about, and ourselves, it will show in the stewardship, or lack thereof, of the land and ocean.
It was said time and time again that you will begin to have an understanding of a place the more you spend time there. This recurring message showed itself throughout different moments of our visit. During our cleanup at Moʻomomi, Uncle Mac said that beginning to be able to understand a place is kind of like fishing, “...the more you go, the more you notice things like what’s happening with the tide, the current, the wind, and more and you’re able to tune in with your surroundings.” Spending time in those spaces where you fish is what helps you to understand the fish more, because “catching the fish is the easy part” - it’s all the other stuff that’s hard to grasp since it takes time and understanding.
This notion of understanding can be applied to anything in life, and for us it’s the same way we should think of the spaces we’re trying to care for; cleaning up our coasts is the easy part, but it’s not the answer. The hard part is all of the external factors at play that you can’t necessarily control right out the bat like other people and their beliefs or an ever-shifting economy… but what you can do is take the time to be present, show up, and listen to understand so that with time and understanding, we might become more equipped to tackle the disaster of plastic pollution. Debris that we helped to clear are not from Molokaʻi but have washed up along its remote shores displaying the discardment of single-use plastics, ghost nets, personal care products and more. It’s not a problem that they created, but still, the community shows up, is present, and puts in the work to mālama their ‘āina.
Over the course of a week, nearly 20,000 pounds of marine debris were cleared from Molokai coastlines with the bulk of it being extracted from a remote stretch of coast near Puʻu O Hōkū Ranch and an area nicknamed “Pintrees.” Though this trip had many standout moments, one in particular (for me) was a nod to the saying, “There is strength in community.” It was a particularly still morning, no wind, a cloudless sky, and heat emitting from the rocks around us, when we hiked our way down the steep cliffs to an area called “Pinetrees” to clear some ghost nets. When we got down and assessed the situation, we found that the two ghost nets were embedded in the rocks; they had been there for weeks. Five of us tackled the smaller ghost net while three others picked up as much debris as they could, stuffing it into reusable feed bags. Nearly two hours later, we were able to split the smaller ghost net into parts and pack it up into Parley Super Sacks to be extracted via helicopter. Though this was a constant tug-of-war as we worked to free the rocks from the nets, we were stoked to finally be pau… with the small one.
Looking back at that time, I’d estimate that the larger net was probably 2x the size of the one we tackled. As we started on the second one, it seemed almost impossible to even start. In no time, a cleanup crew of nearly 20 people from Puʻu O Hōkū Ranch came from another site and descended down the steep cliffs to help us. A job that most likely would have taken the five of us over two hours to complete, took us all a little under an hour to do. It’s the community around us that makes what we do fun and possible; this moment was a reminder of that.
Though we only visit once a year, it’s always a time for talking story, catching up, building new relationships, deepening others, putting ourselves to work, and having fun while doing it. Of the lessons we learned throughout our time there, these are some that stood out the most:
We hope that this has inspired you, just as it has us, to not only care for your coastlines but also to take care of the community that supports you!