Follow Hawaiians’ wisdom

With Honolulu County approving a ban on plastic grocery bags last week, Hawaii will become the first state in the U.S. to ban non-recyclable paper bags and non-biodegradable plastic bags at store checkouts.

Kauai and Maui counties already enforce bans, and Hawaii County’s has a ban taking effect on Jan. 17, 2013. Honolulu County’s ban goes into effect July 15, 2015.

It makes sense that Hawaii would take the lead on this environmental scourge, considering how the islands are anchored in the Pacific, with the world’s largest, and growing, garbage patch floating between them and California.

Earlier this month, scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography reported that the quantity of small plastic fragments floating in the northeast Pacific Ocean has increased a hundred fold over the past 40 years. The area is estimated to be about the size of Texas. The latest study shows that the trash platform is giving sea striders, a marine insect, a place to breed on the open ocean, changing the natural environment there, the Christian Science Monitor reported.

In a previous study, the Scripps Institution team found that nearly 10 percent of fish studied during the trip had ingested plastic.

Is some places in the gyre, as it’s called, there are 46 times more plastic bits than there is plankton, Ecopreneurist reported.

“This paper shows a dramatic increase in plastic over a relatively short time period and the effect it’s having on a common North Pacific Gyre invertebrate,” said study researcher Miriam Goldstein, graduate student at the University of California San Diego. “We’re seeing changes in this marine insect that can be directly attributed to the plastic.”

The United States isn’t responsible for all the garbage; it comes from China and Japan, too.

Unfortunately — “out of sight, out of mind” — is the reigning “environmental” philosophy of so many, right up there with “ignorance is bliss.”

But on the sparkling islands of Hawaii, an exquisite but vulnerable environmental paradise, the metastasizing garbage dump cannot be ignored. Like the environment, Earth’s food chain is an interdependent network, a delicate balance that can easily be disrupted. We ignore the presence of plastic in fish and insects at our own peril.

Hawaii, home to vast marine life — from coral to whales — has always known that its continued health, environmentally and economically, is directly tied to the health of the ocean.

Likewise, it makes sense that the health of our oceans is a good barometer, and predictor, of the Earth’s overall health. The Pacific’s plastic garbage patch is a major warning sign, like a tumor.