Net Result: Cleaner Beaches, Safer Sea
Lost and discarded fishing nets can wreak havoc with sealife, but thanks to the ‘Net Patrol,’ beached nets will never return to the ocean
The toll human activity and overzealous consumption have taken on Donkey Beach in Kapa’a is impossible to ignore. You cannot stick your toes in the sand without seeing hundreds of bottle caps, cigarette butts and tiny bits of plastic littering the shoreline.
But what is equally disheartening to Kaua’i Surfrider Foundation volunteer Barbara Wiedner are the heaps of discarded multicolored, tightly woven fishing nets lodged around the Eastside beach’s rocks and foliage.
“It’s very disappointing and sad,” Wiedner says, as she attempts to slice apart an unusually large amount of netting with a small kitchen
knife while the sun begins to set one weekday evening. “It’s kind of like a metaphor for other problems.”
Which is why Wiedner formed the Kaua’i Surfrider Foundation Net Patrol group in 2007, so that more rogue nets won’t find their way
back out to sea, presenting a hazard to all marine life, including coral reefs, sea birds, seals, whales and turtles.
If the nets are not removed in a timely fashion by dedicated individuals like Wiedner, they can dislodge from Kaua’i’s rapidly changing shoreline and drift back out into the ocean.
“On the beach, they’re eyesores, they’re ugly,” she says. “But we’d rather have them buried in the sand on the beach. It’s when they’re mobile that it becomes a real problem.”
In the Pacific Ocean, fishing nets are the leading cause of injury to humpback whales, according to Wiedner.
So it’s no surprise that between 2007 to 2009, she, along with several other volunteers, removed some 5 tons of netting around the island. The nets were eventually shipped to Oahu, where they were used to generate electricity.
“It’s not the cleanest from of recycling, but at least they’re not in the landfill,” she says.
It goes to show that even a small group of people can make a significant impact, Wiedner adds.
“And if you don’t have a group of people to help you, you can take it one strand at a time. You think it’s impossible, but one tiny knife and one person can make a difference,” Wiedner says as she successfully breaks free a colorful glob of netting.
It was only four Kaua’i Surfrider Foundation volunteers and three beachgoers from Kaua’i High School and Chiefess Kamakahele Middle School who, in March 2007, removed a large tangle of fishing nets from Nukoli’i Beach during the inaugural Net Patrol.
Since then, modest-sized groups of people have gotten together to remove nets around Kaua’i.
Basically all they do is “pull and cut,” Wiedner explains.
And much can be done in a relatively short period of time.
In one hour, four people recently managed to break free an ominous-looking heap of netting that currently awaits a journey from Donkey Beach to a storage area on-island, where it will remain until a second shipping container en route to Oahu can be filled.
“I love the ocean and I’ve always cared for the beach,” says Wiedner, who moved to Kaua’i from San Diego nine years ago after falling in love with the island in 1994 during her first visit.
Helping to clean up Kaua’i’s beaches has been a “really, really fun process,” says the Surfrider Foundation volunteer, who has been assisting the organization since its inception on Kaua’i in 2006.
“It’s really rewarding to
make a difference,” she says.
And until there is a worldwide ban on discarding fishing nets, Wiedner will continue to help protect the island’s waters and natural beauty by removing derelict netting away from the sea.
“The ocean is my playground,” she says, “and I want to protect it and keep it safe for generations to follow.”
To volunteer for Kaua’i Surfrider Foundation’s Net Patrol or to report the location of fishing nets in need of removal contact Wiedner at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 635-2593.