Kuleana & Promoting Sustainability

The word Kuleana is a uniquely Hawaiian value and practice which loosely translates to mean “responsibility”. This word is revered in our Hawaiian host culture and as a value, intrinsically tied to how we care for our natural resources.  I feel it is my kuleana to spread awareness on the global single-use plastic epidemic and equip people, through education, experience and case studies, to be part of the proactive change our world needs. 

This summer I sailed to New Zealand, joining the Eat Less Plastic (ELP) mission in Tonga. The mission of the ELP is to educate the generations of tomorrow about the global single-use plastic problem, so proactive solutions can start today. 

The ELP journey began in Los Angeles and took 6 months to travel over 8,000 miles. Along the way a crew of sailors, scientist, actors, and environmental advocates (aka passionate citizens), collected meaningful data on ocean microplastics, in never-before-sampled waters, through the 5 Gyres Trawl Share Program. As we stopped from island to island (Tahiti, Rawotonga, Fiji, Tonga), we reached out to the local community groups and schools to share knowledge and promote kuleanaby organizing and conducting beach cleanups. 


Unfortunately, the single-use plastic epidemic spans every ocean in every part of the world. The global oceanic conveyor belt moves water around the globe nonstop. As this water circulates, it forms smaller gyres, which accumulate the marine trash into 5 main ocean areas. North Pacific, South Pacific, North Atlantic, South Atlantic, and Indian. The North Pacific Garbage Patch in the North Pacific receives the most media attention. As the largest of all the trash gyres, this cluster of trash is larger than the state of Texas. Recently, a giant net ball with a tracking buoy attached, spiraled out of the North Pacific Garbage Patch and washed up along the north shore of Maui. This is becoming a common occurrence for Hawaii as the islands fall within a direct path for the ocean currents that are moving trash around the North Pacific Ocean. 


For the next few weeks I am on the north island of New Zealand on a mission with ELP to spread awareness about single-use plastics, micro-plastics, and how the oceans circulate trash around the world. This week Captain Phil and I educated 4 classes of 120 local students about conservation practices and shared with them personal examples of what Trilogy and other eco-conscious companies are doing to make a positive difference and minimize their carbon footprint. What we’ve found is people/students are eager to help but they just don’t know where to start. It was fun to introduce them to like-minded community groups and give them tangible ways to start practicing sustainability in their day-to-day. The momentum small student-groups build can be a catalyst for greater change and this is what we hope to see happen with the students we’ve rallied. 

New Zealand is very similar to Maui in that they are environmentally focused, phasing out plastic shopping bags by July 1, 2019. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said; “Every year in New Zealand we use hundreds of millions of single-use plastic bags – a mountain of bags, many of which end up polluting our precious coastal and marine environments and cause serious harm to all kinds of marine life, and all of this when there are viable alternatives for consumers and business.”

In 2018 New Zealand introduced an exciting new ocean cleaning device to catch trash before it reaches the open ocean. Called a “Seabin,” it was installed in one of New Zealand’s main harbors. The Seabin sits at the surface of the water and draws marine trash down into the collection container. This permanent bin collects plastics, Styrofoam, and litter. The Seabin Project was started by a sailor and a boat builder in 2015 who posed a simple question. If we have rubbish bins on land, then why not have them in the water? Though this doesn’t solve our globe’s plastic-problem, it does help to reduce the amount of microplastics being circulated out at sea.  In addition to the first Seabin installed in New Zealand, there are currently 719 Seabins in use around the world. Each bin averages 7 pounds of trash a day collected from the ocean! The top three items pulled out of Seabins are microplastics, cigarette butts, and food wrappers. Some Seabins have oil pads, which helps with removing oil from the ocean’s surface. Currently there are no Seabins in Hawaii but hopefully with enough advocacy we can change that! 

Another great approach to protecting the ocean in New Zealand comes from a company called For the Better Good. For the Better Good makes a sustainable alternative to traditional plastic bottles and packaging. A bottle made from renewable resources can be reused, harnessing the natural elements provided to us, and ultimately returned in a way where it never becomes waste. The bottle, label, and cap can be recycled, and they offer refill and drop off locations all across New Zealand. Dropping your bottle off to one of these locations will ensure that it stays within a circular economy and never enters our oceans or landfills. 

A common saying in New Zealand is “Be a tidy kiwi”. Coined in the 1960’s, this phrase fosters a sense of responsibility to be a clean, green citizen. That resonates with me and brings me back to the word, Kuleana. It is everyone’s kuleana to take care of this planet. Scientists estimate there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic floating around the world’s ocean and cleaning plastic out of the ocean will not alone solve the problem. It is our kuleana to start rethinking, re-purposing, and re-engineering how we use plastic in our everyday lives—to make sustainable choices and be more conscious. It is encouraging to witness communities around the world come together to overcome the plastic problem. I am excited to continue my travels, reaching out to more organizations, schools, and NGO’s to share more on sustainability and bring some learned best practices back to Maui.

Aloha, Magen

Written by Magen Schifiliti ~ Conservation & Education Director at Trilogy

Edited by Brittany Friskics