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North Shore Residents Step Up to Replace Ocean-Polluting Beach Flags

July 03, 2017
By: Doorae Shin

Nearly all of Hawaiʻi’s beach parks are equipped with bright red flags that quicklydegrade, littering our beaches and the ocean with small pieces of plastic. These flags accompany signs that warn beachgoers with messages such as “Dangerous Shorebreak,” “Strong Current,” or “No Swimming.” Though effective at capturing the attention of people on the beach, the flags are made out of a plastic material that quickly degrades, and the plastic pieces blow right into the ocean.

“After only six months, half of the flag degrades from sunlight and strong tradewinds,” shared Rick Williams, a retired lifeguard from the North Shore of Oʻahu.

Three years ago, a team of three north shore residents noticed this problem, and decided to take action. Williams, along with Lee Roy, a Haleʻiwa business owner, and Paula Burgess, a retired preschool teacher, put their heads together to find a solution. With a higher quality fabric and some teamwork, they have made over 150 new flags, effectively replacing the old ones on Oʻahu’s North Shore beaches. Roy purchases the improved fabric, Williams cuts the fabric, and Burgess sews the fabric into a finished flag.

After testing several versions using various fabrics, threads and sewing methods, they are continuously improving the design to increase the durability and longevity of the new flags.

So far, the project is working. “Since the flags were installed at some north shore beaches a couple years ago, the debris from the flags are becoming a thing of the past,” said Williams.

“We are just trying to save the planet,” Williams said jokingly. Although the team sees that this project may be a drop in the bucket for plastic pollution, they hope that people who hear their story will see how easy it is to tackle solutions to problems that may exist in their community.

“Every community and person can get involved to make a positive difference. Every little bit matters,” says Lee Roy, who runs The Growing Keiki, a small business in Haleʻiwa, and volunteers her free time to environmental organizations and projects.

Currently, the beach flags are being replaced on the North Shore from Laniākea to Sunset Beach through this grassroots effort. The City & County of Honolulu has yet to commit to purchasing flags made out of a more durable material. Until then, these volunteers would like to see communities across Oʻahu and the neighbor islands take this project on. They have offered to share their experience and process with anyone who is interested in spreading it to their local beaches. Please contact [email protected] to get in contact with them and to learn more about implementing this project in your community!