Volunteer Cleaning the Beaches of Hawaii from Coast to Coast

Daily Point of Light # 6326 Aug 14, 2018
Joy Ibarra at International Coastal Cleanup Day in Kahuku, September 2016. /Courtesy of Joy Ibarra

A former New Yorker, Joy Ibarra is a Hawaii transplant who says she didn’t give much thought about the environmental issues the 50th state faced until she volunteered to clean a beach through a corporate-sponsored event one afternoon.

Collecting nearly 200 pounds of garbage that day with resources provided by 808 Cleanups, an organization dedicated to restoring Hawaii’s natural beauty by empowering volunteers to conduct decentralized cleanups across the island, Joy was hooked. Her mind racing with ideas on how else she could help rid Hawaii’s beaches of trash and debris, Joy conducted another work-sponsored cleanup event through her company where she currently works as a business analyst. Joy has refused to give up on her clean up mission.

Since 2015, Joy has collected more than 30 thousand pounds of trash and debris from Kahuku Beach on Oahu, and spearheads monthly cleanups with a growing number of volunteers. Joy is making a difference in her community by keeping Hawaii’s beaches clean and inspiring others to consider how they are impacting the environment, and is today’s Daily Point of Light award honoree. Points of Light spoke to Joy to learn more about her work with 808 Cleanups.

What inspires you to volunteer?

In the first cleanup I hosted on my own in 2016, we had 12 volunteers in total. We took 700 pounds of trash and debris off Kahuku Beach that day. That’s as much weight as two lions. The experience showed us that even with a little amount of time and a really small number of people, we could make a big difference. We are getting beaches back to their natural state and sharing the message of not littering.

Describe your volunteer role with 808 Cleanups

I work with 808 Cleanups to get proper permits for us to conduct cleanups at Kahuku Beach, as it is city property.  I coordinate our cleanup session and the volunteer group that will be joining us that day. I also manage all the supplies that 808 provides to us. Ahead of each cleanup, I provide a briefing to let everyone know the history of why we’re at the beach, and what we may find.

 Volunteers at one of the many cleanups at Kahuku. /Courtesy Edgar Espero)

What’s something you’ve found at a beach recently that surprised you?
The last time we were at Kahuku Beach, we found a monk seal. They’re an endangered species of the earless seal, and they live in really remote areas along beaches that aren’t frequented by many people. That sighting was a sign to us of why we are doing these cleanups because there are animals like the monk seal and other living things that depend on us. 

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?

Seeing our effect on other people and inspiring them to start their own cleanups. We’re not just cleaning up beaches and sending people on their way. We’re imparting real knowledge about the environment and sharing a passion for curbing consumption. Our volunteers realize they may be a part of the problem, and they can help to be the solution as well.

Give us the scoop. What is your favorite beach in Hawaii?

Lanikai Beach on Oahu is my favorite. It’s sugar-soft sand and it’s just beautiful there. Only people who are in-the-know go there. The water is clear and steady; perfect water for swimming. Recently at Lanikai, we’ve noticed trash and debris. The last time I was there swimming, I had a piece of plastic floating next to me. It was so disturbing to see that truly everywhere on the island is affected, but we can do something about it.

How can others join your effort?

Please visit our Facebook page for more information as I post information about each cleanup here.

What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?

I’ve learned more about our planet and what we can do and how much we are being affected by it. I’ve also learned how to educate, which has been the biggest surprise  because I never considered myself a teacher. I feel like I’m making a constructive difference and aiding my community.

Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?  

It’s important to give back to your community because there’s a sense of purpose that comes with volunteerism and a sense of fulfillment. It makes me feel better as a person that I’m giving back to the world.

What do you want people to learn from your story?

Any little bit helps. You can’t say, “Oh, it’s there for later,” or “someone else will get to it.” Take care of the problem now before it accumulates over time. What little bit you can do now will really impact who you’re trying to help down the road.

Do you want to make a difference in your community Joy Ibarra? Visit All For Good for local volunteer opportunities.

Post written by Marlena Militana.

Brenda Solis