Paradise Lost – Tiny Plastic Pieces Are Already Polluting Newborn Hawaiian Beach

Source: National Geographic/Sarah Gibbens

Photo: Pascal Debrunner/Unsplash


Only a year ago, streams of lava gurgled from Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano, blocking roads and inching across fields. It eventually reached the ocean where the intensely hot lava hit cold seawater and burst into tiny shards of glass and rubble: brand new sand.

Eventually, new beaches formed, like Pohoiki, a black sand beach that stretches for 1,000 feet on Hawaii’s Big Island. Scientists based in the area aren’t sure if the beach formed quickly after the volcano began erupting in May 2018 or slowly as the lava began to simmer down in August, but based on samples taken from the newborn beach, they know it’s already polluted—covered with hundreds of tiny pieces of plastic.

Pohoiki adds to the growing body of evidence that plastic is most likely ubiquitous on beaches: even ones that look virgin.

Testing the waters

Microplastics are smaller than five milimeters and rarely larger than a grain of sand. To the naked eye, Pohoiki looks pristine.

“It’s gorgeous,” says Nic Vanderzyl, the University of Hawaii at Hilo student who discovered the beach’s plastic.

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Photo: Pascal Debrunner/Unsplash

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