The Center for Biological Diversity, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii and Surfrider Foundation sued the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday for not doing enough to ensure 17 bodies of water around Hawaii are protected from widespread plastic pollution.

The lawsuit against the Trump administration says the plastics cover beaches, harm coral reefs and threaten wildlife.

Specifically, the groups say in a release that the EPA has failed to examine studies showing widespread plastic pollution in Hawaii’s coastal waters and declare the waters “impaired” under the Clean Water Act.

A turtle rests on Kahuku beach on Oahu’s north shore, known as one of the island’s dirtiest beaches. Claire Caulfield/Civil Beat/2019

“The beaches where our keiki gathered shells are now covered in plastic. Waters where our families fish are filled with toxic debris. Marine life in our coral reefs is choking on microplastics,” said Maxx Phillips, the center’s Hawaii director, in the release. “It’s a crisis we have to address before it’s too late.”

Plastics big and small are contaminating coastal waters and harming birds, turtles, fish and seals. One beach on the Big Island is so bad that it’s been dubbed “Plastic Beach.”

“As one of the leaders in plastic pollution cleanup and education in Hawaii, we’ve witnessed the increasing threats of Hawaii’s plastic pollution epidemic,” said Rafael Bergstrom, executive director of Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, in the release. “Every year, a denser wave of plastic makes its way into our coastal waters.

“This insidious pollution shows up as giant heaps of nets that strangle our endangered marine life and as the most microscopic fragments that are mistaken for food by fish and animals of all sizes,” he said. “Our islands need action on one of the most devastating forms of water pollution our planet has seen.”

The release explains that the Clean Water Act requires the EPA to designate as “impaired” all water bodies that fail to meet state water quality standards. Once a water body is designated as impaired, officials must take action to reduce the pollution, the release says.

Microplastics are particularly harmful. These broken-down plastics can absorb environmental toxins and get eaten by fish and can eventually be consumed by humans, the release says.

“The Hawaiian islands sieve out the dangerous and toxic plastic pollution from the Pacific Ocean, causing nearshore waters to be heavily polluted with plastics,” said Carl Berg, a senior scientist with Surfrider Foundation, in the release. “Microplastics and the toxic chemicals that adhere to them are dangerous to marine life at all stages in their life cycle as they ingest it, or simply because they are living in a toxic soup.”

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