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Phantom Menace: Derelict Traps in Florida Keys and U.S. Virgin Islands

Guest Blogger: Gabrielle Renchen, Biological Scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

In an effort to understand regional derelict trap issues, two projects with recently published papers were funded by the NOAA Marine Debris Program.

Traps become marine debris as they are lost or abandoned, and are then usually referred to as ‘derelict’. The impacts of derelict fishing traps are three fold. (1) Derelict traps can continue to ensnare and kill fish and other organisms. Fish that die in derelict traps won’t be part of the harvestable catch for fishermen, and won’t reproduce in the future. (2) Derelict traps are lost to the fishermen, who will need to replace every lost trap.  (3) Derelict traps damage the habitat, which can negatively impact where the fish live and eat.

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Florida Keys’ Derelict Lobster Traps

What typically comes to mind when you think of the Florida Keys?  Beautiful blue waters, coral reefs, fish, and other amazing marine life… but there’s something else lurking below: marine debris! In addition to metal cans, glass bottles, and monofilament fishing line, lobster traps are the Florida Keys’ prominent type of marine debris. A team of scientists from NOAA’s Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research (Amy Uhrin), the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (Tom Matthews) and the Keys Marine Laboratory (Cindy Lewis), conducted surveys to identify and count lobster trap debris and other types of marine debris. These surveys consisted of two divers who were towed behind a boat to study underwater habitats throughout the Florida Keys.

Lobster trap debris included wood slats, rope, and the cement weights used to sink the traps. The scientists counted ghost fishing traps which are lost but still able to catch and kill lobsters and other animals as well as non-fishing traps which were found in various stages of breakdown. They estimated that over 85,000 ghost traps and over 1 million non-fishing traps were in the waters of the Florida Keys. To put these numbers into perspective, about 483,000 lobster traps are actively fished annually.

Trap debris was found in a variety of environments; seagrass, algae, sand, with the highest density of trap debris observed in coral habitats. The accumulation of lobster trap debris in coral habitats, a rarely targeted lobster fishing area, suggests that wind plays a role in moving traps, harming corals, sponges, or sea fans. Other research has indicated that many traps move continuously until finally becoming lodged in the shallow water areas where corals reside.

Trap loss is both an economic issue for fishermen and a source of damage to the environment.  Harvest losses due to lobster mortality in ghost traps and missing gear are substantial sources of lost income for fishermen. Although trap debris removal efforts exist, they are expensive and cannot remove the debris as fast it accumulates. And in the Florida Keys the causes of trap loss include boat propeller cut offs, hurricanes, and theft.

Here’s how you can help: be an alert boater by avoiding trap buoys and organize your own trap debris cleanup through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Trap and Trap Debris Removal Program!

To read the full article: Lobster Trap Debris in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary: Distribution, Abundance, Density, and Patterns of Accumulation

US Virgin Islands’ Derelict Fish Traps

Fish traps are a culturally and economically important fishing gear used to catch reef fish in the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) and throughout the Caribbean. Fish traps are placed in a variety of habitats that can include seagrass, sand, algae, and coral habitat. Given the USVI fishermen’s concerns regarding fish trap loss, our team of researchers from the University of the Virgin Islands, the NOAA Biogeography Branch, and the St. Thomas Fishermen’s Association worked together to investigate the impacts of derelict fish traps. Like in the Florida Keys, theft, vandalism, and buoy-marker severing, where a boat propeller cuts the line and renders the trap derelict, are common causes of trap loss in the USVI in addition to severe storms.

USVI Trap Map

Team placed traps where fishing was known to occur (USVI).

We deployed fish traps built by local fishermen in nearshore and offshore waters where trap fishing was known to occur. Between January and July of 2010, checking traps 2-3 times a week, divers recorded more than 1,100 fish in the derelict fish traps. Topping the list were surgeonfish, snapper, and porgy and hundreds of small juvenile fish and invertebrates. Overall, 34 fish were found with skin abrasions while 2% of the trapped fish died, with the cause of death attributed to ghost fishing. Using our accounts of the species that died and the local fish market prices, we estimated that each derelict trap was capable of causing an annual loss of $52.

Improving spatial planning can reduce the occurrence of severed trap buoy lines, while simple modifications to trap escape panels will significantly reduce mortality from ghost fishing, and the implementation of land-based trap disposal programs could reduce the impact of recoverable derelict traps. This project reveals the impact of derelict traps and their unintentional loss to both the fishing community and coral reef ecosystems. It also speaks to what can be accomplished when we work collaboratively to understand an environmental challenge!
Click  for more information on our derelict fish trap project.

To read the full article:
Impact of derelict fish traps in Caribbean waters: an experimental approach


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Expedition CLEAN with Rozalia Project: We CAN clean the ocean

By: Dianna Parker

On any given day at the Kittery Point Yacht Yard in Maine, you can find a dozen pieces of microplastics matted in with the seaweed by the docks. Many of the pieces are resin pellets, which are used in plastic production, but you can also find plastic foam and other various bits.

Nearby on a research vessel, a crew from the Rozalia Project is working to make sure those microplastics – and the rest of the trash in the ocean – goes away. The motto on board is that, “despite the challenges, it is possible to clean the ocean.”

Here’s one easy way: pick up a plastic bottle from the shoreline before it fragments into thousands of microplastics that are much harder to clean up.

I joined the Rozalia crew this week on Expedition CLEAN, a marine debris cleanup, education, and research initiative in the Gulf of Maine. The Rozalia Project is one of the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s partners in preventing marine debris from entering the ocean through education and outreach. Directly from the crew:

In the summertime, Rozalia Project operates from American Promise, a 60-foot sailboat that Dodge Morgan once used to sail nonstop around the world in record-breaking time. They bring marine debris dockside education to children across the country with the assistance of Hector the Collector, an underwater remote operated vehicle.

Expedition CLEAN will take us to remote islands off the coast of Maine, where we will pick up thousands of pieces of trash and derelict fishing gear, preventing plastics from becoming microplastics. When we’re not doing removal, we’ll test technologies and better understanding where debris concentrates.

Next week, we’ll take the marine debris education message to high school students at Hurricane Island Center for Science and Leadership’s marine biology program.

The Rozalia Project believes that success comes from addressing the entire water column, surface to seafloor, and using multiple methods from restoration (cleanup) to solutions-based research to prevention through education programs.

Part of that education effort is in amplifying the right messages: we can clean the ocean and you can be a part of it. Every little bit makes a difference.

Stay tuned for updates throughout the week!


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Japanese Village Sign Found in Hawaii Returns Home

By: Dianna Parker

A large weathered sign that was once part of a Japanese village is going home today, thanks to collaboration between the State of Hawaii, Hawaiian Airlines, the NOAA Marine Debris Program, and Japanese officials. Hawaiian Airlines will fly the sign from Honolulu to Sendai Airport, where a delegation from Tanohata village will greet it.

The sign, which was ripped from Tanohata in Japan’s Iwate Prefecture during the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, washed up on Kahuku Beach in Oahu, Hawaii last September. After learning that the sign’s broken lettering says “Shimanokoshi village housing,” NOAA and the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources were able to work with the Japanese consulate in Hawaii to determine its origin.

When they learned the sign had been found, representatives from Tanohata requested that the irreplaceable memento be returned. DLNR approached Hawaiian Airlines for assistance, and they volunteered to ship the sign back on a routine flight at no cost.

“This effort is a great example of collaboration between government agencies and industry, working together toward the spirit of Aloha and goodwill,” said Nancy Wallace, director of the Marine Debris Program. “We hope to continue strengthening these partnerships to assist the Japanese people as they recover.”

According to Japan Counsel General Toyoei Shigeeda, based in Honolulu, the village will use it as an exhibit “for future generations to learn about and understand the tsunami disaster of March 11, 2011.” He said, “We’re all excited that now, more than three years after the tsunami, this sign can be returned as a reminder and symbol of what was lost.”

NOAA has received more than 2,000 reports of potential tsunami debris to its disasterdebris@noaa.gov email address, but only about 45 have been definitively traced back to the tsunami. Twenty of those items were found in Hawaii.

 


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Southeast: Educators SORT it out

By: Leah Henry

The Southeast United States has over 18,000 miles of diverse tidal shoreline, including rocky cliffs, sand dunes, grasslands, wetlands, and mangrove forests. It provides valuable habitat to wildlife, as well as places for marine debris to accumulate.

On July 7, fifteen motivated elementary through high school level educators filed into the Project SORT Marine Debris Workshop with tote bags and smiles, eager to learn more about the environmental threat marine debris poses to their region and what they can do to prevent it. For one week in Savannah, Georgia these educators lived and breathed marine debris.

During the workshop, they heard about the latest marine debris science and research, and everyone had a chance to get their hands dirty during teacher-led activities. These educators learned about different types of marine debris from storm generated debris to microbeads, how to be better ocean stewards through citizen science and shoreline monitoring, and how to engage students in field microscope construction and marine debris video game design using existing or free resources.

“When we did the survey this week, we found tiny micro plastics in the sand from Tybee Island that came from the ocean, and when we did the macro plastics survey on Wassaw Island (a national wildlife refuge), we found litter and lots of nets, fishing line, and other debris that had washed up on shore.” said Casey Woods, elementary school teacher at Cedar Ridge.

In one activity, educators placed plastics of all kinds in a small salt water tank. They noted which types of plastic floated, sank, or became suspended in the middle. This information is important when we consider which animals come into contact with plastic in the wild. Some marine animals live and feed at the surface, while others feed on the bottom or somewhere in between. Pairing the plastic’s position with the animal’s location could help educators and their students ponder which types of plastic might pose the highest threat to a marine animal.

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The workshop also featured the Project SORT team’s demonstration of newly designed classroom activities at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, where workshop participants received copies to assist them in their classrooms.

We look forward to seeing how all the educators successfully incorporate marine debris into their existing curriculum and encourage their students to become ocean stewards too!

The Project SORT Workshop was led by Dodie Sanders and funded by the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s Prevention through Outreach and Education grant.


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Keep “The Land of the Free,” Free of Debris

By: Asma Mahdi

Fireworks over San Diego Bay in California on the 4th of July.

Fireworks over San Diego Bay in California on the 4th of July.

On Friday night, many of us from coast to coast will watch spectacular fireworks takeover starry skies with brightly colored chrysanthemum bursts of red, white, and blue. It’s the Fourth of July – a day for friends and families to rejoice in our nation’s independence and jump into summertime festivities. It’s often an afterthought, but after the bursts of lights cease and the crowd clears, who’s going to clean-up the mess?

The morning after a fireworks display, not surprisingly, is a dirty day at the beach. Pieces of litter can easily be traced back to activities from the day before with a noticeable increase in firework debris along the coastline. You can find spent plastic shells, tubes, wings, and other small remnants in pockets where fireworks launched just a day before. These plastic pieces, especially hard plastics, are a potential human health hazard, with a risk of injury, and can be easily mistaken for food by marine animals, especially birds.

There are simple steps we can all take to prevent this debris from entering the ocean. If you plan to celebrate this Fourth of July with fireworks, keep the “land of the free,” free of debris:

  • Most importantly, be safe and make sure it is legal to use fireworks in your state. Check this listing at USA.gov to see your state’s firework regulation laws. Local regulations vary, so be sure to check those out, too.
  • Visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission website to learn how to properly and safely handle and dispose of used fireworks.
  • Volunteer for a beach cleanup after the Fourth of July to help remove debris left behind.

There are several cleanups events nationwide. Participate in one of these post-celebration beach cleanups or find a cleanup near your region:

Washington: Host: OurBeach.org via Grassroots Garbage Gang, Long Beach Peninsula Saturday, July 5

Oregon: Host: SOLVE Seaside Beach Saturday, July 5, 8am – 11am

Northern California: Host: Save our Shores Various sites in Santa Cruz and Monterey County Friday, July 4th (noon – 4pm), and Saturday, July 5 (8am – 10am)

Southern California: Host: Heal the Bay Manhattan Beach Saturday, July 19, 10am – noon

Hawaii: Host: ProjectAware Magic Island Beach Cleanup Saturday, July 5, 8am – noon

Great Lakes: Host: Alliance for the Great Lakes Various locations at times, click link for more info Saturday, July 5

New Hampshire: Host: Blue Ocean Society Jenness Beach Wed, July 9, 6:30 PM

Massachusetts: Host: Surfride Foundation, MassachusettsChristian A Herter Park Sat, July 12, 2:30pm – 4:30pm

Florida: Host: City of Maderia Beach Archibald Park Saturday, July 5, 8am – 11am

Florida: Host: Keepers of the Coast Various locations Saturday, July 5, 5pm – 7pm

 

 


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Not Just Hot Air: Celebrate July 4 Without Balloon Releases

By: Leah Henry

Releasing a helium-filled balloon into the air may seem liberating, symbolic, and even celebratory. It is also littering, because after balloons go up, they also come down.

Being that over 70 percent of the earth’s surface is covered in water, the chance that the deflated balloon will land in a receptacle instead of our ocean is highly unlikely. In fact, volunteers all over the country often find balloons when doing marine debris cleanups.

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So why does this matter? Those lifeless pieces of rubber, latex, or plastic wind up in the ocean, where marine animals may mistake them for food and eat them – blocking the animal from eating the food it needs to stay alive. Sadly, the strings or ribbons can wrap around their necks, fins, or flippers, cutting into their flesh causing severe damage or preventing them from hunting.

If you use balloons for a celebration, please don’t release them into the air. For outdoor celebrations, here are some alternatives:

  • Plant a ceremonious tree.
  • Use pinwheels from used materials.
  • Blow bubbles.
  • Dedicate a park bench.

If you do use balloons, secure them tightly and think twice before you let go!

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