NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

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Where Are All of These Derelict Nets Coming From?

Two Marine Debris Program staffers are participating in NOAA’s annual mission to remove derelict nets and other marine debris from sensitive coral reefs and shorelines in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world. An estimated 52 tons of derelict fishing gear washes up in the Monument each year, threatening the pristine ecosystem. Follow their journey

By: Dianna Parker

Mission Log 8

Each time we pull up a huge, stinky, algae-covered tangle of fishing nets into our boat, the same thought crosses my mind: where in the world did this come from?

We know that they are used for commercial fishing activity – but whose? How long have they been tumbling through the ocean and why are so many ending up on these tiny, remote islands and atolls?  Can we trace them to their source?

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer.

To get some more insight into why this issue is so complex, I spoke with Amy MacFadyen, an oceanographer and modeler with NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration, and Jim Potemra, an oceanographer at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. Check it out.

 


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Marine Debris Divers Find Potential Tsunami Debris in Pearl and Hermes Atoll

Two Marine Debris Program staffers are participating in NOAA’s annual mission to remove derelict nets and other marine debris from sensitive coral reefs and shorelines in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world. An estimated 52 tons of derelict fishing gear washes up in the Monument each year, threatening the pristine ecosystem. Follow their journey

By: Dianna Parker

Mission Log 7

A few days into operations at Pearl and Hermes Atoll, the marine debris divers stumbled across three fishing boats from Japan. Similar boats that were torn away from Japan during the 2011 tsunami have turned up in Hawaii, the West Coast of the United States, and Canada over the past three years.

Both of the recovered boats were found upside down in the atoll.

Both of the recovered boats were found upside down in the atoll.

Two of the 30-foot boats were found floating upside down in the atoll. They appear to be in good condition with minimal biofouling and intact registration numbers. The Sette crew was able to lift them both on board, so they will return to Honolulu with us and our nets. From there, we can work with the Japan consulate to confirm whether they were indeed lost during the tsunami and then try to identify their owners.

The third boat was submerged in the water and too damaged to tow; the divers noted its location and continued surveying but were unable to locate it again when they returned.

If the two boats are indeed tsunami debris, it will bring the total number of items found within the Monument to six. In 2012 and 2013, two other boats were located at Midway Atoll, along with a sign and a blue seafood bin.

To date, NOAA has received approximately 2,000 reports of potential tsunami debris to its DisasterDebris@noaa.gov email address. We have positively identified 53 of those items as debris from the tsunami.


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Heading to Dry Land: Lisianski Island

Two Marine Debris Program staffers are participating in NOAA’s annual mission to remove derelict nets and other marine debris from sensitive coral reefs and shorelines in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world. An estimated 52 tons of derelict fishing gear washes up in the Monument each year, threatening the pristine ecosystem. Follow their journey

By: Dianna Parker

Mission Log 6

We’re leaving Pearl and Hermes Atoll for the day and heading over to Lisianski Island to pick up derelict nets on the shoreline. Nets are still an entanglement hazard for the Monument’s wildlife even when they’re on land; it’s not uncommon to see a Hawaiian monk seal lounging on a large pile of them.

Lisianski Island is a tiny piece of land, so our team should be able to clean it in no time. After that, we’ll head back to Pearl and Hermes Atoll to finish up. We’ve been finding some interesting debris there — but I’ll have more on that later. In the meantime, here’s an overview of the island:

IKONOS satellite imagery of Lisianski Island.

IKONOS satellite imagery of Lisianski Island.

1. Size and shape: According to the Monument, “About 20 million years ago, geologic forces raised the tip of a huge coral bank above sea level. Today, Lisianski Island is 1.5 square kilometers (381 acres), about the size of Honolulu. Its highest point is a sand dune about 40 feet above sea level. Though the island is small, the reef area to the southeast, called Neva Shoals, is huge, covering 979 square kilometers(241,916 acres), an area nearly the size of O`ahu.”

2. Diver’s favorite fact: There are flies at Lisianski Island. A lot of them.

3. Hawaiian name: Papa‘āpoho


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NYC Marine Science Festival: SUBMERGE!

By: Keith Cialino

On October 5, I represented the NOAA Marine Debris Program at Submerge!: NYC Marine Science Festival, hosted by the Hudson River Park Trust and New York Hall of Science. The event took place on Pier 26 in Manhattan, a beautiful location on the Hudson River with stunning views of the NYC skyline, including the new One World Trade Center skyscraper. More than 4,500 people came to the event to enjoy interactive marine science booths, free kayaking on the Hudson, informative talks, and tasty food. Even the live music was marine-themed and solar powered! One really neat thing about the event was the level of crowd engagement. Almost every table had a fun, educational, hands-on activity for kids and adults alike, and it seemed like visitors spent a lot of time at each booth.

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At the event, I gave a talk about small changes New Yorkers can make to prevent marine debris- things like drinking New York City’s great tap water instead of buying bottled water, checking their toiletries for microbeads, and not releasing balloons  into the environment.

NYC tap water instead of bottled water -http://marinedebrisblog.wordpress.com/2014/07/01/this-4th-of-july-dont-feed-the-animals-your-plastic/
Check toiletries for microbeads – http://marinedebrisblog.wordpress.com/2014/06/20/illinois-bans-plastic-microbeads-from-personal-care-products/
Don’t release balloons – http://marinedebrisblog.wordpress.com/2014/07/02/not-just-hot-air-celebrate-july-4-without-balloon-releases/

I also had a table with the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s interactive wheel of knowledge. It was a lot of fun talking with attendees about marine debris and hearing their answers to the marine debris questions from the wheel. The kids had creative answers to my “Name the 3 R’s” prompt. I heard great responses like respect, renew, and recharge, but we were able to get to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle by the time they walked away. One very young visitor to my booth told me, “I can’t even read yet!”, but, with me reading the question, he did know that we should not put our trash in the ocean. 100 people left our booth with the 2015 marine debris calendar, and many more left with new knowledge of marine debris in the NYC area.

More event photos: Flickr Account (Photos Credit: David Handschuh)


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NOAA Marine Debris Program Releases 2014 Accomplishments Report

By: Nancy Wallace

2014 was a ground breaking year for our program. We paved the way in the marine debris field by releasing a first of its kind economic study that assessed how litter affects beachgoers’ economic welfare and publishing marine debris science papers summarizing the issues of entanglement and ingestion. Looking to the future, this research will help us grasp a better understanding of marine debris impacts to our economy and our oceans.

As we forged forward with new science, we also continued the important work of removing debris from our oceans and cultivating future environmental stewards through education and outreach. This year, we reached 12,628 students and 168 teachers through hands-on education and outreach. We also continued our efforts to clean up and remove disaster debris from Superstorm Sandy and the 2011 tsunami that struck Japan. There is no doubt that more severe storm events are in our future. These events will leave behind significant amounts of debris, and in our new response role, we are working with states across the nation to strengthen our coastal resilience through regional planning.

I am excited to build on the momentum we created into this new fiscal year as we launch partnerships across the country and continue to address and remove marine debris from our oceans. I am honored to work with a dedicated staff and a passionate community that eagerly wants to keep marine debris out of our oceans and Great Lakes. With great excitement, I present our 2014 Accomplishments Report, which highlights some of our major achievements over the past fiscal year.


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Three Things You Should Know About Pearl and Hermes Atoll

Two Marine Debris Program staffers are participating in NOAA’s annual mission to remove derelict nets and other marine debris from sensitive coral reefs and shorelines in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world. An estimated 52 tons of derelict fishing gear washes up in the Monument each year, threatening the pristine ecosystem. Follow their journey

By: Dianna Parker

Mission Log 5

We left Maro Reef after pulling up a whopping 14 metric tons of derelict nets in six days and moved on to Pearl and Hermes Atoll, where we expect to be for another week. Today was our first day out in the small boats, and one boat disentangled two different green sea turtles from two different nets.

The divers are doing a combination of swimming and tow-boarding here; we can pull them behind the boat clinging to boards in some of the atoll’s flatter parts, which should give them some relief from swimming. The interesting thing about this place is that there’s a huge section the divers lovingly refer to as “The Maze,” which is made up of vein-like, reticulated strips of reef crisscrossing the middle of the atoll. From satellite, it looks like someone took spaghetti and threw it into the deepest part of the lagoon.

The veteran divers here tell me “The Maze” is where the nets will likely be. We’ll see, but in the meantime, here are three things you should know about Pearl and Hermes Atoll.

IKONOS satellite imagery of Pearl and Hermes Atoll.

IKONOS satellite imagery of Pearl and Hermes Atoll.

1. Size and shape: According to the Monument, “Pearl and Hermes Atoll is a true atoll that is primarily underwater and has numerous islets, seven of which are above sea level. While total land area is only 0.36 square km (80 acres), the reef area is huge, over 450 square miles (194,000 acres). The atoll is ever-changing, with islets emerging and subsiding.”

2. Diver’s favorite fact: Pearl and Hermes Atoll is a little bit of everything: islands, barrier reef, deep lagoons, reticulated reef maze, amazing marine wildlife, and shipwrecks that are nearly 200 years old.

3. Hawaiian name: Holoikauaua


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Marine Debris Diver: We Hauled 14 Metric Tons of Derelict Nets off Maro Reef

Two Marine Debris Program staffers are participating in NOAA’s annual mission to remove derelict nets and other marine debris from sensitive coral reefs and shorelines in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world. An estimated 52 tons of derelict fishing gear washes up in the Monument each year, threatening the pristine ecosystem. Follow their journey

By: Naomi Blinick

Naomi is a guest blogger and marine debris diver on the mission.  

A marine debris diver secures lines to a tangled mass of nets at Maro Reef.

A marine debris diver secures lines to a tangled mass of nets at Maro Reef.

As a new member of the marine debris team, I am both humbled and awed by what I saw in our first week of field operations at Maro Reef.  While our first day presented us with ideal conditions, we were confronted with strong currents, rain squalls, and poor visibility throughout the week. Yet in just six days, we still managed to exceed our expectations for this site and surveyed nearly 1 million square meters of area and recovered an estimated 14 metric tons of marine debris!

As you’ve read on this blog, our  recovery efforts focus on derelict fishing gear, or DFG.  This type of debris poses direct threats to marine life, by entangling animals like critically endangered Hawaiian monk seals and green sea turtles, and by snagging on delicate corals as the nets travel across a reef area.  The nets may either settle where they first catch, breaking, shading, and abrading the corals, or they may actually break the corals off the substrate and continue to travel, picking up more and more coral heads as they make their way across a reef.  They effectively turn into net purses rolling across the reef, catching up corals and rubble and becoming remarkably heavy in the process. This causes increasing damage as they smash into the substrate in current and surf.  These nets in particular are very difficult to pull up.

The actual process of pulling in the DFG has been eye-opening for me.  In training, we had a lot practice spotting debris items and calling out data to our small boats, but we didn’t have an opportunity to pull in anything big until the real work began.

Sometimes, it’s easy; we can just untangle the debris from the substrate and swim it (often with the help of our buddy) to the boat. Other times, the net, or conglomeration of multiple nets, can weigh 500 lbs or more. For these, we need to figure out how to best utilize our resources to get the DFG aboard.  Often this means tying lines to the net underwater and then hauling the lines from the boat until the main mass of the net is right off the sponson (the inflated side of the small boat).  Then, we’ll retie our lines to lower points on the mass and slowly pull it up incrementally, adjusting our lines to lower and lower points until the mass can be pulled up over the edge of the sponson and into the boat.

In some cases, the nets need to be cut into sections underwater to be able to lift them in. We had a situation like that a few days ago, and we must have cut through at least six different net-types that had all combined into one massive conglomerate. We all carry sharp dive knives for this purpose, and I’ve been amazed at how quickly mine has dulled from cutting through nets, which are often covered in thick coralline algae.

The photos may make it look like a tropical paradise, with crystal clear waters and blue skies, but it is difficult to capture the many occasions when the water is opaque with stirred-up sediment, and the topside visibility is equally non-existent due to rain. When high winds make it nearly impossible for your small boat to maintain its position and your net is too heavy to swim it out of the hole in the reef where you found it.  When you are repeatedly free diving to 25 feet and feel like you are barely making headway on a huge net, or when you have two whole boats teams (eight people) straining to pull in a mass of tangled nets aboard the boat.

It would be easy to be discouraged by what we find out here if it weren’t for our incredibly strong and motivated team.  Instead of heartbreak at the amount of debris we find, I feel pride in the amount we have been able to recover. I have a lot of confidence in this remarkably dedicated group, who every day is swimming for hours on end in search of DFG, working tirelessly in and out of the water to remove it, and ultimately transporting this debris off the reef.  Each net removed is a victory for monk seals, sea turtles, and the vast coral reefs of the Monument.  I’ve been asked several times this week if this experience is what I expected when I accepted the job.  My answer is always a resounding yes.

 If you missed it: Do you know what it takes to be a marine debris diver?

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