For Immediate Release, February 5, 2020

Contact:

Maxx Phillips, Center for Biological Diversity, (808) 284-0007, mphillips@biologicaldiversity.org
Rafael Bergstrom, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, (808) 445-2085, rafael@sustainablecoastlineshawaii.org
Carl Berg, Surfrider Foundation, (808) 639-2968, cberg@pixi.com

Lawsuit Targets Trump Administration’s Failure to Protect Hawaiian Waters From Plastic Pollution

HONOLULU— Environmental groups sued the Trump administration today for failing to protect 17 coastal water bodies around Hawaii from widescale plastic pollution that covers beaches, degrades coral reefs and threatens birds, fish, sea turtles and other wildlife.

In the today’s lawsuit, the Center for Biological Diversity, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii and Surfrider Foundation challenge the Environmental Protection Agency’s failure to examine studies showing widespread plastic pollution in Hawaii’s coastal waters and declare the waters “impaired” under the Clean Water Act.

“The beaches where our keiki gathered shells are now covered in plastic. Waters where our families fish are filled with toxic debris. Marine life in our coral reefs is choking on microplastics,” said Maxx Phillips, the Center’s Hawaii director. “It’s a crisis we have to address before it’s too late.”

Plastic pollution in Hawaii ranges from microplastics that contaminate coastal waters and harm marine life to massive piles of plastic waste along Kamilo Beach, nicknamed “Plastic Beach.” Studies indicate that 17 water bodies around the Hawaiian islands are impaired by plastic pollution.

“As one of the leaders in plastic pollution cleanup and education in Hawaii, we’ve witnessed the increasing threats of Hawaii’s plastic pollution epidemic,” said Rafael Bergstrom, executive director of Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii. “Every year, a denser wave of plastic makes its way into our coastal waters. This insidious pollution shows up as giant heaps of nets that strangle our endangered marine life and as the most microscopic fragments that are mistaken for food by fish and animals of all sizes. Our islands need action on one of the most devastating forms of water pollution our planet has seen.”

The Clean Water Act requires the EPA to designate as “impaired” all water bodies that fail to meet state water quality standards. Once a water body is designated as impaired, officials must take action to reduce the pollution.

Plastic pollution poses a serious threat to Hawaii’s water quality and vulnerable marine ecosystems. Microplastics, or plastics that have broken into tiny pieces, are emerging as a major threat to marine wildlife and water quality. Microplastics can absorb environmental toxins and get eaten by fish, other marine life, and can eventually be consumed by humans.

“The Hawaiian islands sieve out the dangerous and toxic plastic pollution from the Pacific Ocean, causing nearshore waters to be heavily polluted with plastics,” said Carl Berg, a senior scientist with Surfrider Foundation. “Microplastics and the toxic chemicals that adhere to them are dangerous to marine life at all stages in their life cycle as they ingest it, or simply because they are living in a toxic soup. Plastic should be considered a pollutant to all recreational waters, and EPA should force polluters to stop putting public health at risk.”

Plastic pollution has been accumulating in our oceans for decades and is expected to outweigh all the fish the sea by 2050. Much of that plastic comes from Asian countries that process American plastic waste. But surveys have found a significant percentage of the plastics contaminating Hawaii’s waters originate within the state.

seaturtle__4_photo_by_Raftography_Sustainable_Coastlines_Hawaii_FPWC_OK_for_Media_Use-scr.jpg
Sea turtle on a Hawaii beach strewn with plastic pollution, by Raftography/Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii. This and other Hawaii plastic pollution images available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The Surfrider Foundation is a nonprofit grassroots organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of our world’s ocean, waves and beaches through a powerful network. Learn more at surfrider.org.

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