LAHAINA - After a short speech, the brigade broke ranks after 9 a.m. Saturday, and small companies of volunteers donning reflective vests and equipped with biodegradable bags made out of potatoes spread out like proud legionnaires across Lahaina town.
They descended on the beaches, some armed with butterfly and baitfish nets, which were used to sift through the sand to remove bottle caps, glass, straws and fast-food wrappers, chewing gum and cigarette butts by the umpteens. Needless to say, everyone wore gloves, which were donated like everything else on Saturday.
More than 500 people volunteered in Lahaina alone to clean up an area between Hanakaoo and Puamana beach parks for the annual "Get the Drift and Bag It" campaign. The gathering at Kamehameha Iki Park was the largest one Saturday but still just one of 23 similar efforts across Maui Nui to protect its precious coastal waters.
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
Moe Thajib (left) and Ian McPhee of The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua use their muscles to pull a tire and other junk out of the sand at Puamana Beach Park on Saturday morning during the county’s annual “Get the Drift and Bag It” shoreline cleanup.
The Community Work Day Program and the Ocean Conservancy coordinated the Maui County event, which coincided with an effort spanning 100 countries called the International Coastal Cleanup.
Local organizers estimated that at least 1,000 people turned out across Maui, Molokai and Lanai and brought in thousands of pounds of trash that might otherwise have found itself sinking into Maui Nui's delicate near-shores. It's the largest turnout in the event's 18-year history on Maui, organizers said.
Most of the volunteers, including hundreds of schoolchildren, focused on the beaches. But they also scoured the roadsides for detritus. A group of six volunteer scuba divers pulled hundreds of beer bottles and many twisted yards of fishing line out of Lahaina Harbor.
Kona Lamphere, 11, of Lahaina Intermediate School, said he was having a great time and had done eight trash-collecting trips around the block before 10:30 a.m.
"It helps the environment, and that's a rule at our house," Kona said. "We're supposed to help the environment. . . . I'll do it again next year."
The volunteers stuffed their sacks with discarded plastic bags, carried broken furniture over their heads and rolled tires to giant bins donated by Maui Disposal Co. and Aloha Waste Systems. The nonprofit Community Work Day brought three flatbed trucks to Lahaina.
"I just love volunteers," said Community Work Day Executive Director Rhiannon Chandler as she watched a cohort of kids arrive at the event staging area loaded with junk, laughing and perspiring under the intense west side sunshine.
Some kids - quick as geckos - even got on their bellies in the dusty parking lots to snatch cigarette butts from under cars.
"The first couple of years, we had to beg and plead for help," said five-time Lahaina event organizer Matt Lane, who works at a gallery and a restaurant. "Now we ask, and people just drop everything to pitch in. It's so cool."
In the park, the volunteers were treated to a lunch donated by Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, Pacific'o Restaurant, Longhi's, Santa Fe Cantina and Cheeseburger in Paradise. Surf schools brought in potable water.
Lahainaluna High School students, some of whom earned community service hours toward graduation for volunteering, gathered much of the organic material to compost at the school.
At the end of the day, participants were treated to a movie in the park, the documentary "Fuel." The film depicts America's dependence on oil and highlights alternative energy solutions.
As a beach lover, Lane said, a large part of his inspiration for coordinating the event is to promote green technology solutions that save the environment. He encourages volunteers to press local and state politicians for policies that better preserve and restore Hawaii's natural resources, such as higher fines for polluters and more enforcement of existing environmental protection laws.
Coordinators said that people on Maui produce 8 pounds of garbage a day, compared to the national average of 3 pounds. They blamed the difference on a lack of curbside recycling pickup, a growing local consumer culture and a lack of affordable durable products, as well as tourists who take a vacation from recycling while visiting the island.
"I think we're just over-consumers. Period," Chandler said. "We want to have everything that everyone else has and it's just not sustainable, especially not on an island."
Nester Ugale is a Lahainaluna teacher on sabbatical while he gets his master's degree. The environmental technology instructor coordinated West Maui student volunteers from his school as well as Sacred Hearts School and Maui Preparatory Academy.
"I grew up on the west side," Ugale said. "For me, this is mostly about about kids taking ownership for their land. And the younger generation understand that. We have some alumni who help now, too. A community elder came up to me recently and cried, she said, because they never did this. They never thought to do this."
Lahainaluna High School students and sisters Liza and Rachel Tobias, ages 16 and 14, and friend Rose Bacolini, 15, had an even more pragmatic approach, one they said accounting and science classes helped form.
"It's important because we don't want rubbish to pile up," Rachel said. "We should reuse what we can because our resources are really low and the dumps are getting full."
"Nobody wants to look at nasty things," Liza added.
"And we want more tourists," Rose said.
"We need them," Liza said. "You can't sell your product if it's not presentable; and Lahaina is a business."
Chandler looked stunned for a moment at the teens' cheery wisdom. Her face brightened and she thanked them again and again and snapped their picture.
"They're right," she said, as the girls bounded away and promised to be back next year.
The Maui County Department of Parks and Recreation donated a large garbage bin.
* Chris Hamilton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.