Student efforts get smoking ban passed
KAILUA-KONA » A group of middle school students is celebrating a victory for marine life at a Kailua-Kona beach.
After nearly a year of helping usher a new law through the Hawaii County Council, the West Hawaii Fisheries Council youth group had only been waiting for Mayor Harry Kim's signature on an ordinance that prohibits smoking or disposing of cigarette butts at Kahaluu Beach Park.
On Friday, Kim signed the ordinance, under which violators may face a fine of $25 to $50.
Inspired by a science fair project, the students got a little more than they bargained for when they invited a county councilwoman to their meeting last year.
They wanted former Kona Councilwoman Virginia Isbell to stop people from smoking at the popular surf and snorkel spot off Alii Drive.
The group picked up 2,068 cigarette butts within 30 minutes at the beach and then collected more than 700 signatures to present to Isbell.
Instead of acting on the request and drafting an ordinance, Isbell challenged the students to do it themselves.
"She made us write the ordinance," said eighth-grader Loren Jessup. "After that, we asked if she would bring it to the council, and she did."
Donna Goodale, a member of the fisheries council and the youth group's coordinator, said the students showed perseverance and dedication to the cause, testifying before the council six times in Hilo and Kona.
Five of the council meetings fell during school breaks.
"These kids gave up sailing classes, trips to the beach with their friends, swimming and all the activities they like to work on this," she said. "It is quite a feat they've accomplished."
The group is mostly students at Hualalai Academy, the private school in Kona where Goodale also is a science teacher.
They started with a simple goal: "At first it was just to clean it up and pick up cigarette butts on the beach," said Laura Andersen, who was inspired to conduct a science experiment.
"I measured out little squares on the beach and counted ghost crabs and cigarette butts," the eighth-grader said. "There was a significant correlation between crabs and cigarettes. But I expected that because I didn't expect them to be hanging out around cigarette butts."
She said she also found a nickel and a couple of pennies, plus some drug paraphernalia.
Andersen's project won a Hawaii Audubon Society award last year at the 49th Hawaii State Engineering and Science Fair, which encouraged the group to persevere.
After all the work, Nathaniel Goodale was determined to stick around until the final vote at Jan. 4 council meeting.
When the eight council members in attendance finally unanimously passed the measure, the eighth-grader leaped to his feet and raised his arms in victory, getting an appreciative chuckle from council members.
The students acknowledge the new law will be hard to enforce, but they hope to change habits.