Invasion Of The Nurdles

Author: Jessi Schultz

Nurdles have begun to invade the beaches in Hawaii, and though they are small, they do not come in small quantity.

A “nurdle” is originally a small slug used to manufacture plastic, but it is also plastic that has been degraded (by exposure to the sun) to infinitesimal bits over time floating in the sea. The nurdles can be less than one centimeter across and weigh less than a paperclip.

In an article from Columbia University’s Earth Institute, Renee Cho states, “...plastic bags can take 20 years to decompose, plastic bottles up the 450 years, and fishing line, 600 years, but in fact, no one really knows how long plastic will remain in the ocean.”

As we walked through the beach access to Lanikai, cigarette butts and candy wrappers were laden over the sand between the patches of purple flowers and at the foot of palms. The litter was quietly pocketed in our bags. As we walked by parked canoes, we spoke on the beauty of whale songs and how creatures communicate, if only to us, we joked.

It seemed important to me to note that Natalie had a fascination on the subject matter of voice, language, and communication. Could the whale’s verses be that of contentment or tragedy? These words- voice andmlanguage- have varying levels of meaning, including the choice to remain separate from the world in which we live, or the capabilities to begin to understand, to know what never seemed silent at all.

When we found a place on the beach outlooking the Na Mokulua islands, we began sifting for plastic pieces. We each held spoon-like
sifters but found that few pieces were
so small that they would fall through
the net.

Natalie divulged that on some nearby beaches like Waimanalo, one can watch the pellets roll in with the waves.

The plastic particles, or as some know them as mermaid tears, are also great absorbers of toxic chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) according to These pollutants make their way up the food chain, right into tuna and wahoo (or your next poke bowl).

An article in the New York Times
entitled, “Study Finds Rising Levels of Plastic in Oceans,” by John Schwartz states that new studies indicate that the amount of plastic previously thought to be in the ocean was greatly underestimated.

From the article, Jenne Jambeck, an assistant professor of environmental engineering at the University of Georgia, leading author of the study, says the amount of plastic measured to be in the oceans in 2010 is between 4.8 million metric tons and 12.7 million. To put her new study into perspective, the median number of eight million can be perceived as “five plastic grocery bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline in the world.”

Jambeck claims the number of plastic floating abroad will be doubled by 2025.

Some scientists claim that better waste management is the solution to our plasticized seas due to the decreasing size of debris. Americans alone manage to use 10.5 million tons of plastic waste, yet only recycle 1-2% according the

Conserving the ocean need not be a far off dream set up for us by scientific magazines or large corporations; the individual can commit to a fresh regimen, a revolution set out for ocean conservancy and a world without plastic.

When we left the beach that evening, we had a bag full of plastic that brought with it a tinge of sadness. The fight can be overwhelming at times when the plastic is mixed deeply in the sand, yet the twilight had shifted the mood to a luminous purple all over the beach. This beauty can still be sacred, can still be preserved with the right ambition.

Because we have our voices, we can speak for those without one. For the turtles who consume plastic bags instead of jellyfish, the filter feeders sucking up plastic bits not plankton or albatross mistaking plastic as food for their kin. The list goes on, but it doesn’t have to forever.