Morning Jogs in Paradise: Despoiled by Trash and Plastic

LAHAINA, HAWAI’I — I live in a small, box-like room on the island of Maui, just three blocks from the beach. You probably have an image of this in your mind — palm trees gently swaying in the breeze, with the ocean quietly lapping at the soft sand into which I dig my toes every day, the sunrise casting a red-orange glow on the islands across the Au’au channel.

If this is the picture you have in your mind, it’s not totally off base — and it’s one of the reasons I make every attempt to leave my room and go for an early morning jog: to experience the paradise I’m calling home.

Sunrise on the beach is serene. There are few other people around, and this is a time of day when I can clear my mind and think. 

 The sun rising over Shark Pit Beach, Maui

The sun rising over Shark Pit Beach, Maui

I love the peace it affords me, but first I need to navigate my way through the cars and bicyclists making their way to work, weaving through ambling tourists on the narrow, debris-filled streets of downtown Lahaina. There’s barely enough room for cars and pedestrians, so a jogger has to keep his head on a swivel.

 The crowded intersection near the author’s place of residence

The crowded intersection near the author’s place of residence

The narrow strip of beach that I find myself on, locally known as Shark Pit, already has a half-dozen people learning to “pop up” on longboards, preparing themselves for the biting chill of the ocean before daybreak. OK, maybe I’m exaggerating just a bit, but none of these out-of-towners look particularly stoked to get in the water at this hour.

But back to my run…anyone who’s ever jogged on sand knows that it’s as much of a mental workout as it is physical — children build sandcastles, coconuts dot the beach, and holes dug for whatever reason all make for obstacles that you have to watch out for, lest you sprain an ankle.

Jogging on the beach means keeping your head down, and watching your next step…

…which, unfortunately, also gives me the chance to see the heart-breaking amount of trash, mostly plastics, littering the beach in paradise.

 Balloon strings despoil the scenery

Balloon strings despoil the scenery

Water bottle caps, a balloon string, and an Andes mint wrapper were just a few of the items I picked up on the small, quarter-mile stretch of beach that I ran last week, an all-too-common occurrence.

A few days later, my housemate returned from a walk on the beach with a cup full of cigarette butts, lending credence to the oft-seen bumper sticker “Hawai’i Is Not Your Ashtray”.

 A full cup of cigarette butts retrieved from a morning’s walk

A full cup of cigarette butts retrieved from a morning’s walk

This sort of trash is an inescapable part of life living in an island paradise, and these are just a handful of what’s found at a beach frequented by hundreds of people every day. Maui might be home to 150,000 people, but there isn’t all that much space for us all to live, work, and relax. While trash does need to go somewhere (that’s a topic of debate for another day) everyone needs to be mindful of where their waste goes. 

If it ends up on the beaches, we all see it. 

 Which one doesn’t belong?

Which one doesn’t belong?

Every time I go for a jog, I challenge myself to pick up a single piece of trash and deposit it in the proper receptacle. I imagine that many other people living and visiting Maui do the same, and while it might seem like a small, insignificant gesture, it could mean all the difference for a sea turtle, an albatross, or a whale. One of the inescapable parts of living in an island paradise is learning to share the land with the wildlife around us.

It’s dispiriting to see, day after day, the refuse that litters the beach. Going for a run is a great way to clear my head and appreciate the beauty of the natural setting I’m living in, but it also compels me to take care of the environment. I’ve drastically dialed back my consumption of single-use disposable plastics, because all I can think about is what happens to them when I’m done.

 What will happen to this container once I’m done with it?

What will happen to this container once I’m done with it?

We’d all do better to play our parts in ensuring our day-to-day crap doesn’t end up littering the pristine eco-systems that we want to call home — for a day, a month, or a lifetime. Look around you. You might be surprised what you see.