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Surfrider Hawaiʻi 2023 Year in Review

2023: Unprecedented Challenges Prove the Strength of Our Community & Surfrider Network 

2023 started off strong, with victories for beach access (Hoʻokipa Beach Park on Maui) and passage state level coastal protection bill SB1391. In March, nine Surfrider volunteers from the Oʻahu, Maui, and Kauaʻi chapters traveled to Washington, D.C. to advocate for clean water and plastic reduction at the federal level. Momentum on each island was moving back to pre-pandemic levels with more outreach events, beach cleanups, and community engagement. Then, on August 8, a fire ravaged the town of Lāhainā, while also destroying homes and forested areas in Kula.

This unprecedented tragedy rocked the very core of our Maui community. Four months later and the West Maui community is still dealing with ongoing trauma, securing housing, and a mental health crisis. The environmental impacts are also still being realized, as a proposed toxic waste disposal site sits less than 400 feet from the ocean and ongoing concerns about the longterm consequences of the toxic ash. Critical issues around water rights, corporate greed and unsustainable development, disenfranchisement of Native Hawaiians, and loss of native ecosystems have also come to the forefront of discussions. 

As an environmental organization, we have navigated the aftermath of the fires to best align with our mission of the protection and enjoyment of our ocean, waves, and beaches. To that end, our Surfrider Maui volunteers have come together to expand water quality monitoring along West Maui, push the County and State on Best Management Practices and run off control, advocate for increased coastal water testing that is directly related to human health and recreation, and partner with fellow organizations to support our community in the ways we are best equipped. 

The outpouring of support from our fellow Surfrider Foundation chapters, both in Hawaiʻi and as far away as Japan and the East Coast, was profound. Our Surfrider community near and far truly rallied behind our Maui family.

Here's to looking ahead towards the opportunities, community building, advocacy, and partnerships that 2024 holds in store. 

~ Lauren 

Check out the 2023 victories and outcomes that YOU, our Hawaiʻi network, has helped achieved for our ocean, waves, & beaches in 2023. 

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2023 Highlights

  • Won 4 major campaign victories focused on beach protection and beach access.
  • North Shore Coastal Resilience Working Group (NSCRWG) was awarded the 2023 Community Based Planning Award by the American Planning Association Hawaiʻi Chapter.
  • Expanded the North Pacific Eel Trap to include partners in Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea
  • Pivoted to respond the Maui fires and expand West Maui water quality monitoring
  • Continued advocacy against illegal shoreline structures and the protection of our public beaches 


2023 Coastal Recreation Hill Day in Washington, D.C.

In March 2023, nine volunteers from the Oʻahu, Maui, and Kauaʻi Chapters joined fellow Surfrider activists for Surfrider Foundationʻs 7th annual Coastal Recreation Hill Day. The Hawaiʻi delegationF1D2F602-01E2-435D-B315-152AA12AA794_1_105_c met with Hawaii's four federal representatives (Senator Brian Schatz, Senator Maize Hirono, Representative Ed Case, and Representative Jill Tokuda). During these meetings, our volunteers outlined our local programs to improve coastal water quality and reduce plastic pollution. We provided our representatives with our Annual Blue Water Task Force Report that highlights the chronic pollution plaguing coastal areas on Kauaʻi and Oʻahu. We further reiterated the importance in taking leadership on plastic pollution - especially derelict fishing gear.

To address these issues, we urged our federal representatives to:

1. Increase federal appropriations to $15 million for the BEACH Act that provides the funding for the Hawaiʻi Department of Health to maintain its coastal water quality monitoring program.

2. Maintain funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund that invests in upgrades to our aging wastewater and stormwater infrastructure and will reduce sewage spills on our coasts. 

3. Take international leadership in addressing and reducing derelict fishing gear

4. Support nature-based and ocean climate solutions legislation that advances proactive adaptation, prohibits new offshore drilling, enhances coastal resilience, and funds essential NOAA programs. 

We have also encouraged public participation in the lawmaking process at the local level through our Stoked on Civics public training. We hope to expand this training in 2024 across Hawaiʻi. 

Mahalo to our volunteers who participated (L-R): Cynthia Welti, Ruta Jordans, Brittany Kamai, Mattison Priest, Maria Lujan, Charlie Quesnel, Lauren Blickley, Camile Cleveland, Marina Scott, Elizabeth Benyshek.


Maui Fire Response

The August 8 fires that ravaged Maui proved to be a major turning point in the year, testing the resilience of our Maui Chapter. Since August, we have made incredible progress in expanding water quality monitoring along West Maui and advocating for public health and safety considerations related to ocean recreation along West Maui. With many generous donors and grant funding, we were able to hire Hanna Lilley as the Maui Fire Response Coordinator. She has been able to expand our water quality monitoring program, partnerships, and advocacy efforts. The cleanup and rebuilding process is proving to a long road that will likely impact our Maui community for the foreseeable future.  

The Maui Chapter has undertaken additional toxin and contaminant testing that costs upwards of $100 per sample. Please consider donating to the Maui Fire Response Fund that enables the Chapter to continue this sampling, as well as undertaking additional recovery projects. You can also read more about the initial days after the fire and the Maui Chapterʻs ability to pivot and respond. 


Clean Water 

It should come as no surprise that in Hawaiʻi, our ocean and coastlines are a core part of our local communities. The ocean is a sanctuary for many and hold immense cultural, spiritual, recreational, and mental/physical health value. Our Clean Water Initiative and Blue Water Task Force Programs are thus some of the most developed Surfrider programs across Hawaiʻi. Many of our coastal areas, unfortunately, suffer from chronic pollution. Our Clean Water projects help inform ocean-goers on where it is safe to get in the water while also raising critical concerns about water quality at the county and state levels. To address some of these local pollution issues, the Kaua'i Chapter has engaged in multiple lawsuits, including one to stop pollution in Kīkīaola Ditch and another to curb pollution from the Kauaʻi Shrimp Farm

1. Department of Health Commits to Brown Water Advisory Signage

After years of Surfrider Foundation pressure, the Hawai'i Department of Health has finally committed to posting permanent signs at beach parks to inform beach users of elevated risks of swimming in brown water or during brown water advisories. As of October 2023, the Department of Health had issued a request for proposals to procure the signs. Signs will then be installed at County beach parks. Currently, no signs are posted on beaches in response to brown water advisories (BWA). 

2. Kauaʻi Sucralose Study Confirms Cesspool Pollution

In July, the results from a sucralose stream study performed by the Surfrider Foundation Kauaʻi Chapter were published in the scientific journal Environmental Monitoring and Assessment. Sucralose, an artificial sweetener, is commonly used in candy, beverages, baked goods and dairy products. It passes through the human digestive system unchanged and is resistant to wastewater treatment. Due to these unique properties, sucralose has been successfully used worldwide to indicate the presence of human sewage in waterways.

Of the 24 streams sampled by Surfrider Foundation Kaua‘i, sucralose was detected in 19 of the streams at least once and was detected in more than half of the samples collected in 14 streams, indicating that these streams are contaminated with human sewage. All 24 streams exceeded state standards for enterococcus bacteria (a fecal indicator bacteria). 

The results from the sucralose testing supports the chronic water pollution that Surfrider Kauaʻi has been tracking in streams across the island since 2008. For over a decade, Surfrider Kauaʻi sampling has documented chronic levels of pollution where freshwater meets the sea at Hanamāʻulu stream, Nāwiliwili stream at Kalapaki Bay, Niumalu Beach Park, and Waikomo stream at Koloa Landing. The state has put up warning signs at Niumalu and Hanamaulu, but other sites where people are often found in the water and Surfrider is measuring bacteria levels that exceed the state health standard every single time it is tested, like Nāwiliwili Stream, remain unposted.



3. High Levels of Lead Contamination Raise Alarm in ʻEwa Beach

Puʻuloa Beach Park is a community beach located adjacent to the US Marine Corps Puʻuloa Range Training Facility (PRTF). For almost a century, PRTF has been used as a range for rifle and pistol practice. The coastal dunes of PRTF thus have high levels of lead from the bullets used in target practice. Chronic erosion of the shoreline in front of PRTF has raised concerns about lead pollution along the public shoreline. Due to these concerns, Surfrider Foundation Oʻahu Chapter (SFO) volunteers conducted a series of sediment testing in areas along the shoreline in front of PRTF in ʻEwa Beach. In its Puʻuloa Beach Lead Contamination Report, Surfrider Foundation Oʻahu Chapter reported lead contamination levels that were as high as 17 times the accepted levels for industrial areas. 


In August 2023, Marine Corps Base Hawaii (MCBH) sent a proposed lead sampling plan for the shoreline area adjacent to PRFT. Surfrider Foundation and community partners wrote a letter to MCBH and the Hawaiʻi Department of Health, pushing back on some aspects of the sampling plan. We are particularly concern about the lack of third-party oversight during MCBHʻs sampling. We also reiterated our belief that the decision to move the range should not be contingent upon the results of MCBHʻs lead testing. Lead contamination is only one of the significant public health and safety threats posed by PRFT. In December 2023, MCBH and state Representative Martinez announced in a press conference that three separate, third-party scientists will be on site during MCBH testing and the public is also invited to provide oversight. 

4. West Oʻahu Blue Water Task Force Sites

In the last few years, the Oʻahu and Maui Chapters have heeded requests from communities to expand Blue Water Task Force testing. On Oʻahu, Pōkaʻī Bay represents an important area for community recreation. It has suffered long-term pollution and water quality issues, with many community members complaining of rashes or infections after swimming in the bay. August 2023 marked one year of Blue Water Task Force Testing at three sites in Pōkaʻī Bay. This effort would not have been possible without the advocacy and partnership of Carmen Guzman-Simplicano and Kingdom Pathways. Every other week, Carmen, her family, and fellow community members collect water quality samples from the bay and nearby Kaupuni Stream that drains into the bay. Since October 2022, every sample collected at the mouth of Kaupuni Stream has failed to meet Department of Health state standards. 

Carmen's efforts to improve water quality in Pōkaʻī Bay, as well as advocating at the state level for improvements to the jetty wall that inhibits flow in and out of the bay, is highlighted in the Treat Hawaiʻiʻs Water Better! video. 

The need to expand community-based water quality monitoring along the Waiʻanae coastline got an additional boost when Surfrider Foundation Oʻahu Chapter and Waiʻanae High School were awarded a grant by the Hawaiʻi Community Foundation to establish a Blue Water Task Force lab at Waiʻanae High School's Marine Science Learning Center. The lab will begin processing samples in early 2024 and provide additional insight into West O'ahu's coastal water quality. 


Coastal Protection

North Shore Working Group Awarded APA Award

In September, the North Shore Coastal Resilience Working Group (NSCRWG) was awarded the 2023 Community Based Planning Award by the American Planning Association Hawaiʻi Chapter. The NSCRWG is a partnership between Surfrider Foundation Oʻahu Chapter, Sea Grant Hawaiʻi, and SSFM International. From 2021-2022 the Working Group held six meetings with 30 stakeholders and community members. The final report was published in October 2022. Many of the recommendations included in the report have been discussed at the state level or action taken act the County level. This project has been an important part of elevating the discussion around managed retreat and beach protection - not only around Oʻahu, but across Hawaiʻi. Mahalo, Oʻahu Chapter. Special shoutout to Elizabeth Benyshek and Mike Foley of the Oʻahu Chapter dedicated a lot of time and effort to the success of the Working Group. 


Surfrider Remains a Vocal Advocate Against Illegal Shoreline Armoring

Along eroding coastlines of Maui, O'ahu, and Kaua'i, private property owners (both single-family houses and hotels/resorts) have sought to combat rising seas and large waves with a host of illegal erosion control measures including rocks and rubble, sand burritos, tarps (above), sand bags, and more. One of the most impacted coastlines in the North Shore of O'ahu from Kammies to Sunset Beach (above). Surfrider Foundation has been raising alarms, submitting testimony on proposed fines/fees, and pushing the state to take a harder line against illegal and nonconforming shoreline structures. With new leadership at both the state Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands (OCCL), as well as at the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR), there has been significant steps to holding private property owners more accountable for their actions that negatively impact the public shoreline. Currently, OCCL is proposing fines up to $975,000 for illegal work dating back to 2014 at 59-181 D Ke Nui Road, O'ahu. A few months ago, BLNR further directed homeowner Josh Van Emmerik was ordered to remove the concrete, rebar, and wire mesh that he placed on the public shoreline in October 2022. 

In an important victory, DLNR's OCCL office has also stopped its practice of issuing emergency shoreline protection permits in cases of coastal erosion. This is a significant shift in OCCL policy. While we continue to seek ways to support property owners in these highly vulnerable areas exit the shoreline, Surfrider also strongly supports the policy change at OCCL and the issuance of fines for repeat offenders. We hope that in the coming months and years, these actions can set new precedence for how our state and homeowners address the continued threat of coastal erosion. 

Maui Chapter Joins Lawsuit to Prohibit Additional Sea Wall Repairs at Kahana Sunset Condos

In July 2023, the Surfrider Maui Chapter and partners filed an appeal against yet another round of permits that would allow a repairs to a structurally failing sea wall on West Maui. The Kahana Sunset oceanfront condominiums, also known as the Kahana Sunset Resort, is one of several coastal developments on West Maui experiencing – and contributing to – significant, chronic erosion on the island. Since at least 2010, the Maui County Planning Department and the Maui County Council have recognized the need for “managed retreat” at the Kahana Sunset, which has two buildings – Building A and Building F – sitting precariously at the water’s edge, with failing seawalls, and foundations atop growing sinkholes (Building F is so unstable, its 12 units have been uninhabitable since March 2021). 

On June 19 and July 18, 2023, the Maui County Planning Department granted yet another round of permits and exemptions for Buildings A and F, allowing more “repair” and continuing encroachment, without environmental assessment. Accordingly, on July 21, 2023, together with community groups Nā Papa‘i Wawae ‘Ula‘ula and Ka Malu O Kahālāwai (and their leaders Kai Nishiki and Tiare Lawrence), the Surfrider Foundation, on behalf of the Maui Chapter, filed an appeal before the Maui County Planning Commission challenging the permits and exemptions. The appeal argues that the Planning Director’s permits and exemptions violate the Coastal Zone Management Act (Hawaii Revised Statutes, Chapter 205A), and the Hawaii Environmental Policy Act (Hawaii Revised Statutes, Chapter 343).  

Plastic Pollution

North Pacific Eel Trap Project Expands to Asia

In 2023, Surfrider Foundation Kauaʻi Chapter was awarded a grant by the Global Ghost Gear Initiative to expand the North Pacific Eel Trap Project into Asia. Through this grant award, we were able to contract partners in Japan (Surfrider Japan), Taiwan (IndigoWaters) and South Korea to provide additional insight into the eel fishing industries in these countries. In July, Dr. Carl Berg of the Kauaʻi Chapter spent time in each country visiting fishing villages, boats, marine supply stores, and eel trap manufacturers. Through this effort, we have been able to identify eel traps from Hawaiʻi beaches that match the names of the fishermen, boats, fishing cooperatives, and companies from our partnering countries. However, much of our data points to China as likely being the major source of derelict eel traps washing up on Hawaiʻi shorelines. 

Dr. Berg also met with senior fisheries officers in Korea and learned about the implementation of a biodegradable eel trap program in which the government subsidizes the distribution of their biodegradable eel trap entrances (BETE). In addition, the Korean government has a “deposit” system whereby they will buy old fishing nets, a program that will be extended to include eel fishing gear in 2024. 

The North Pacific Eel Trap Program has further garnered interests from scientists at the University of California at Santa Barbara and the University of Rhode Island who are working on the development of a new material that can biodegrade in the ocean. This new technology could be applied for fishing gear or ocean-based research equipment in the future. 

Taiwan moray eel trap 1-1Ning Yen of Indigo Waters in Taiwan talking with a marine supply store owner about the moray eel trap that he sells.

Beach Cleanups and Kaua'i Net Patrol

Though beach cleanups were significantly impact over the last few years by the COVID pandemic, 2023 saw an uptick in the number of cleanups that our chapters across Hawai'i were able to host. In addition to removing plastic and other pollution from our beaches, beach cleanups are the most common way for new members and volunteers to get involved with our local Hawai'i Chapters. 

On Kaua'i Chapter, weekly Net Patrols scour hard-to-reach shorelines that are often magnets for large items of marine debris like fishing nets, bouys, floats, eel traps, and sometimes even boats. The Net Patrols consolidate the debris into large "super sacks" that are removed every few months via helicopter lifts. The Chapter also collects data from the many "solo cleanups" that take place around the island each week. Special MAHALO to Scott McCubbins of the Kaua'i Chapter who recently celebrated 10 years of leading Net Patrol. 

Models from fellow Hawai'i researchers indicate that the Hawaiian Islands will likely receive an increase in ocean-based debris over the next few years as the North Pacific Current will shift south (and closer to Hawai'i). The North Pacific Current is important for circulating ocean water throughout the North Pacific Ocean, but also carries debris throughout the Pacific. This is why, in Hawai'i, we often find debris on our shorelines that has come from thousands of miles away. 

We also continue to support NOAA's Marine Debris Program in Hawai'i and contributed to the updated 2024 Hawai'i Marine Debris Action Plan.

Beach Access

While protecting beaches in important, we must also ensure that the public is able to access our coastlines. In 2023, Surfrider Hawai'i Chapters won two important victories for beach access. On Maui, the Chapter secured early hours opening of the Ho'okipa Beach Park gates. From December 2022-March 2023, the Chapter signed an ROE with the County of Maui and raised funds to cover the cost of opening the park gates at 5:30am (in time for dawn patrol and early morning surfers). As of March 2023, the County took over the gate opening and committed to keeping the gates open at 5:30 am (instead of 7am). 

On Kaua'i, the Chapter spent the last few years cleaning and maintaining the beach access trail at the end of 'Aliomanu Road. A new owner had taken over the adjacent property in 2021 and effectively cut off access for local residents. After pressure from the Kaua'i Chapter and other community members to keep the path clear, the owner finally sold the property. The latest property owner has worked with Surfrider to maintain the trail and keep the access safe and open to the public. 

Finally, the O'ahu Chapter has been locked in an ongoing battle with the Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation who has repeatedly attempted to eliminate the 300 free parking stalls at the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor.  While a bill at the state level failed to pass the 2023 legislature, Surfrider and it's partners Save Surf Parking effectively thwarted DOBOR's sneaky attempt to eliminate free parking at a November Board of Land and Natural Resources hearing. In 2024, the O'ahu Chapter will fight hard to find solutions that will protect the 300 free stalls in perpetuity.