By Relief for the Reef’s members: Elise Wong ‘24, Sabina Funasaki ’24, Nanea Allen ’24, Gabe Canevari ’24, Geoffrey George ’24 and Maya Munley ’24
Relief for the Reef is a student organization striving to create a more environmentally friendly society. The group started out as a school assignment in our Global Sustainability by Design class. Our teachers, Samuel Vierra and Kaela Clapp, challenged us to find what we were passionate about, and to use that passion to find a way to make a positive impact on our world through the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).
Since then, this project has grown to be so much more than just another homework assignment. Our group’s goal is to educate and inspire others to take action against the many adverse effects plastic pollution has on our environment, and the damaging chemicals prevalent in many of the leading sunscreen brands. We originally aimed to simply raise awareness about these harmful practices through our instagram (@relief_for_the_reef). However, we soon realized that without a specific action people can take to tackle this problem, no real progress will be made. With that in mind, we worked with organizations, including Friends of Hanauma Bay, Drew McWhirter, Little Hands Hawai’i Sunscreen and Sustainable Coastlines Hawai’i, to find ways to work together and take action in the community.
Our most recent project was organizing a beach cleanup at Kailua Beach. With the help of Sustainable Coastlines, we were able to educate our 45+ participants and provided many of them with a reef-safe sunscreen sample from Little Hands Hawai’i. At our second beach cleanup, we nearly tripled the amount of trash collected, and found a lot of micro plastics and land-based trash. These cleanups showed us that no matter how clean the beaches appear, there is always more work to be done. We will continue to hold beach cleanups, and hope to inspire more people to take action.
Another main project we are working on is collaborating with Friends of Hanauma Bay to support their coral restoration project. Unfortunately, due to safety protocols we are not able to visit the Hawai‘i Coral Restoration Nursery at this time. But in the future, we hope to head there to learn more about what’s being done to save dying coral reefs. We would then love to educate the public and get our community involved. Recently, we also met with Drew McWhirter (Instagram: @oceanplasticwarrior) to help him sort through and sample ghost nets and other derelict fishing gear pollution found in the ocean. He attends Hawai’i Pacific University, and for this specific project, he has access to a warehouse on campus which he calls the “Net Shed.” Using collected net samples, he and the HPU Center for Marine Debris Research are aiming to identify the origin of the nets by taking surveys and getting information from fishermen, with the goal to reduce the pollution at its source.
Lastly, we have been politically active in advocating for local bills which aim to eliminate the sale and distribution of sunscreens with harmful chemicals in Hawai’i. We lobbied for Bill SB 132 and successfully supported it through the Senate. However, the bill died in the House. Despite this, we will continue to reach out and support bills that align with our mission. In just six months, we have made significant headway towards our goals, but despite all our efforts, much still has to be done.