Volunteers care for the land in honor of Earth Day

Apr. 20—Hundreds of volunteers are expected to head out this weekend to care for the aina—from mauka to makai—in honor of Earth Day, which falls on Monday.

Hundreds of volunteers are expected to head out this weekend to care for the aina—from mauka to makai—in honor of Earth Day, which falls on Monday.

But for a number of nonprofits and volunteers dedicated to sustainability, Earth Day is every day, and the work takes place year-round.

, a nonprofit started in 2010 by a group of seven ocean-loving friends in Kaimuki, has grown by leaps and bounds into an organizer of large-scale events, with an education campaign on reducing plastics and waste in the environment.

This year Sustainable Coastlines decided to host a week of events, starting with a beach cleanup Sunday at Bellows, followed by a regenerative agriculture event Tuesday, a planting and composting event Thursday and land restoration project April 28.

"Earth Week, instead of Earth Day, is a new concept for SCH that extends our aina work across the ahupuaa of Waimanalo ... from makai to mauka, " said Executive Director Rafael Bergstrom in a statement. "Our volunteer events will stretch from sifting microplastics out of our coastlines, to understanding soil health and farming practices, to the restoration of ancient terraces that can once again feed people and clean the fresh water."

The beach cleanup focuses on sifting microplastics from the sand but also understanding where it comes from and what steps can be taken to reduce plastic.

"We're talking about millions of pieces of plastics that are in the high tide line down into the sand columns." he said. "Those are just as detrimental to our ecosystems as the big things. Microplastics are ingested by animals of all sizes whether sea birds, monk seals, whales or just our reef fish."

Turnout at the nonprofit's events have been consistently strong. In 2023 an Earth Day beach cleanup and event at Waimanalo Beach Park brought 2, 200 volunteers. This year Bergstrom hopes to spread that out more over the week, with diverse volunteer opportunities.

Another nonprofit, inspires volunteers to gather, clean and restore parks and beaches in their community—from Maili to the Kaiwi coastline—on a regular basis year-round.

They clean up litter and graffiti but also remove invasive plants and do restoration work.

At the Kaiwi coastline in Hawaii Kai, for instance, volunteers remove invasive buffelgrass and haole koa, and replant the area with native plants to help save endangered yellow-faced bees.

Michael Loftin, the nonprofit's director, said that 10 years since its founding, it is busier than ever.

Recruiting interested volunteers has not been a problem, as both residents and a growing number of visitors—perhaps half a dozen visitors per week—have shown a consistent interest in the projects across Oahu.

As soon as events are posted, they are usually filled, he said.

In 2023 the nonprofit mobilized more than 8, 000 volunteers from the community to steward their parks and beaches.

The greater challenge, he said, has been a drop in financial support. Despite being busier than ever, the group has been running at a financial deficit in the past year and a half. The last grant-in-aid it applied for and was able to get from the city was four years ago.

"We have every incentive and ability to grow and do even more, " said Loftin. "I would love to grow the staff, but we can't fund it."

The idea behind 808 Cleanups is to put volunteers in the pilot seat and to provide the supplies and tools for people to connect as well as take action. Through the app and calendar, 808 Cleanups tries to make it as easy as possible to sign up and get out there.

Many adopted sites have taken off on their own, with dedicated volunteers working hard to restore Nimitz Beach in Kalaeloa, for instance, Kaloko Inlet at Kaiwi and Pu 'u o Kai ­muki Park, among many others.

Another nonprofit, , brings experienced divers together to clean up debris from the ocean.

On Oahu, volunteers dive underwater at "Spitting Cave " in Portlock—a popular fishing spot—to clean up fishing line, lead weights and other debris.

On a recent weekend a team of nine rescue-certified dive volunteers pulled out 135 pounds of lead and 3, 000 to 4, 000 yards of fishing line that could potentially damage corals and entangle wildlife from the area.

"You have to give back where you can, " said Temple Liebmann, volunteer coordinator for the nonprofit Ocean Defenders Alliance. "We're cleaning up. If we don't, the coral dies, and if the coral dies, the fish are gone."

At the bottom of the ocean, divers find all kinds of items, she said : cellphones, Go Pros, vapes, chairs, boat parts—and once, an entire ladder.

To date, the team has also hauled up more than 400 tires, which are toxic to the ocean, from Kaneohe Bay at Heeia Kea Pier, another regular cleanup site.

The tires are heavy and come in all sizes, and divers go in with zero visibility. They learn to locate a tire by feel, then work a cable around it to pull it up to the surface with a lift bag. Then someone swims it to the dock, and a line of volunteers above haul it out.

Then there's the loading up of the tires, usually in partnership with companies like Aloha Junk Man or Kanai's Rolloff, to transport them to Oahu's HPOWER facility.

There's a bond that develops working together, and a natural high divers feel after finishing the hard work.

"It's an amazing feeling, " said Liebmann of completing a cleanup. "It's euphoric because when you come up, there's camaraderie. Everyone's excited and happy, and you feel you've accomplished something."

Following the last cleanup, a pod of dolphins leaped out of the water as divers were surfacing, perhaps to say thanks or join in on the celebration.

The nonprofit has chapters on Maui and Hawaii island, where volunteers have cleaned up Honokohau Harbor, and is also in California.

"It makes you feel good to see the sea life come back, " she said.