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"Operation Airlift" nets 4,200 pounds of debris

Surfrider Kaua‘i announced 2023 Operation Airlift program has concluded, as volunteers partnered with Jack Harter Helicopters and Timbers Kaua‘i Ocean Club to fly 2 tons of marine debris out of some of the island’s hardest-to-reach shores.

“We’d like to thank our dedicated volunteers, plus Jack Harter Helicopters and Timbers Kaua‘i Ocean Club, for the success of this year’s Operation Airlift,” said Scott McCubbins, co-coordinator of Surfrider Kaua‘i’s beach cleanup and net patrol. “Plastics, both from commercial fisheries and individual usage, are polluting our oceans and endangering marine life and coral reefs.”

Surfrider Kaua‘i has conducted beach cleanups since its founding in 2006. The 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami resulted in a significant amount of debris ending up in the Hawaiian Islands, causing the Kauaʻi Chapter to rehaul its beach cleanup program. 

Under the organization’s revamped efforts, Surfrider Kaua‘i began counting how much debris it collected and leading targeted net patrols.

At its peak, the team collected up to 10,000 pounds of trash per month. The data from these cleanups highlighted that the majority of debris was washing onto the islandʻs remote, rocky coastlines, as opposed to its sandy beaches. 

While the team could reach the remote beaches on foot, the amount of debris and treacherous terrain made it difficult — if not impossible — to get the debris off of the coastline.

To address this issue, Surfrider Kaua‘i in 2019 began partnering with Jack Harter Helicopters to airlift massive bulk bags of debris away from the coastlines for safe disposal.

“These aren’t little things — you could fit in one,” Berg said. “These are big, heavy, industrial-sized, and we fill them up and haul them out.”

This year, the 12-week Operation Airlift resulted in 11 bulk bags containing more than 4,200 pounds of debris transported away from Kaua‘i’s shores to Timbers Kaua‘i Ocean Club resort and another private property site, where volunteers removed the bags for recycling and proper disposal.

While it may sound like a lot of trash, Berg said Surfrider’s actually collected less garbage every year since Operation Airlift began, a phenomenon that can be attributed to the Texas-sized Great Pacific Garbage Patch slowly moving farther away from Hawai‘i.

While Surfrider’s Operation Airlift has concluded until spring or summer 2024, beach cleanup efforts on the island continue year-round.

“All of us can do our part,” Berg said. “Whether it’s a big part like Operation Airlift, or a little part like picking up that plastic and throwing it in the garbage can. It all makes a difference.”

Check out upcoming beach cleanups and events on Kauaʻi.