kauai marriott

Why Three Hawaii Beaches Ranked Most Polluted In U.S.

The Surfrider Foundation’s 2022 Clean Water Report was released last week, and it was shocking to have Hawaii make the three most polluted popular beaches in the nation. Ugg. Their report is attached below.

Clearly, in Hawaii and across the country, we all love beaches. Surfrider says that over 100 million of us flock to beaches yearly for recreation and leisure.

We often think of Hawaii as having pristine, clear turquoise water, and to be honest that’s true a great deal of the time. And we love it! But sometimes, that isn’t the case. Hawaii’s three shockingly polluted beaches include those below. And it isn’t just those three beaches.

Nawiliwili Stream/Kalapaki Beach Park, Kauai (pictured).

In our lead photo, this beach is polluted 100% of the time. Were it not for the continuous pollution, Kalapaki Beach would be considered excellent for swimming, surfing, and more. It sits in front of the Royal Sonesta Kauai, previously the Kauai Marriott Beach Resort. The beach is in part protected from large surf by a break wall.

The problem here is the polluted Nawiliwili Stream that flows across the sand and into Kalapaki Bay. While Surfrider has tested it, the state health department does not test here because the stream is not considered part of the marine beach. Surfrider reports that Nawiliwili Stream has not measured a bacterial count below the state health standard since 2016.

Kahaluu Beach, Oahu.

Not to be confused with Kahaluu Beach on Big Island, where snorkeling is popular, Kahaluu on Oahu is reportedly polluted 88% of the time. It is on the windward (east) side of Oahu, located along Kaneohe Bay, not far from Kailua, and just north of Kaneohe. In Hawaiian, ka haluʻu is defined as the “diving place.” Perhaps now it’s better to enjoy the view.

Kahaluu is used to access Kaneohe Bay to go snorkeling, boating, and fishing. The watershed has a high concentration of cesspools. Kahaluu is at the receiving end of a stream that brings stormwater down to the beach.

Hanamaulu Beach, Kauai.

Surfrider reports that Hanamaulu Beach is polluted 80% of the time. With calm water in the bay, pollution washes from the stream into the ocean. There’s no lifeguard at Hanamaualu Beach Park. Hanamaulu is the ancient birthplace of Kawelo, one of Kauai’s ruling families.

This county beach park has many recreational uses, including traditional Hawaiian fishing practices. There is a stream next to the park that empties into Hanamaulu Bay. It’s tested high every time over the past decade.

Surfrider collected more than 9,000 water samples.

Surfrider tests ocean water for bacteria levels to raise awareness of beach and ocean health and to help find solutions to pollution.

“The Surfrider Foundation was founded in 1984; improving coastal water quality has been one of our
top priorities. Through our Clean Water Initiative, we strive to protect water quality and reduce pollution so it is safe to surf, swim and play in the ocean and in our coastal waterways.”

What is the cause of Hawaii’s beach pollution?

More than anything else, the cause of pollution in Hawaii’s ocean water is antiquated cesspools. Hawaii still has 88,000 of these, some of which are scheduled to be around until 2050.

The cesspools contribute more than 50 million gallons of raw sewage daily into the state’s groundwater and surface water. Cesspools are an old technology for disposing of untreated wastewater. The impacts of the pollution include groundwater, that’s responsible for the vast majority of Hawaii’s drinking water. It also puts residents and visitors at risk of illness and seriously harms streams, the ocean, and our coral reefs.

In 2017, the Hawaii Legislature passed Act 125 to require the replacement of all cesspools by 2050. It also directed the Department of Health to prioritize the replacement of the most damaging cesspools based on their influence on public health.

The impacted beaches have streams that flow nearby. That’s an important consideration before entering the ocean. What you can do is check water safety before going in.

And it’s not just these three Hawaii beaches either.

For example, while Hanalei Bay Kauai did not rank in the top three, entering the ocean near the Hanalei River (around the pier) is not recommended unless the water is clear. The middle part of Hanalei Bay is fine, and we will often walk down that way if water clarity and likely pollution is an issue.



Leave a Comment

Comment policy:
* No profanity, rudeness, personal attacks, or bullying.
* Hawaii focused only. General comments won't be published.
* No links or UPPER CASE text. English please.
* No duplicate posts or using multiple names.
* Use a real first name, last initial.
* Comments edited/published/responded to at our discretion.
* Beat of Hawaii has no relationship with our commentors.
* 750 character limit.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

4 thoughts on “Why Three Hawaii Beaches Ranked Most Polluted In U.S.”

  1. I’ve known for many years of staying at the Marriott in Kalapaki beach area that the water is polluted. Ive seen the entire bay a chocolate brown at least three times. Eww!
    So now I ask what is being done to clean things up? Whose job is it to the property owners? The county of Kauai? Or the state of Hawaii? Is the beautiful place ever going to safe in which to swim??

Scroll to Top