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Bottle Caps, Lighters, and Birds Don’t Mix: Cleaning Up Marine Debris at Midway 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 9

The marine debris removal mission isn’t entirely about derelict fishing gear. For several days, our team removed thousands of pieces of plastics and other marine debris from two tiny islands at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.

The variety of litter we found on Midway Atoll, a little wildlife paradise more than 1,000 miles from any city, was astounding. Each team surveyed several transects of shoreline, cleaning up debris 10 centimeters or larger in size. Bottle caps, cigarette lighters, and small floats were an exception, since birds eat them. We picked up 7,436 hard plastic fragments, 3,748 bottle caps, 1,469 plastic beverage bottles, 477 lighters, dozens of buoys, ropes, and floats, toys, toothbrushes, laundry baskets, shipping crates, a firefighter’s hat, and other remnants of human consumption and commercial fishing activity.

Cleaning up shorelines is less physically taxing than diving for derelict nets, but it can be brutal in its own way. Each pile of miscellaneous debris, no matter how heavy, has to be carried and waded out to the small boats, which are positioned off shore. Everything gets packed into enormous, 42 gallon bags in the boat and transported back to a pier on Midway’s main island. Each bag weighs more than 200 pounds with all the debris packed inside.

Then there’s “the sort,” which is exactly what it sounds like: we dumped everything on the pier, sorted it into categories, and tallied it up. It was chaotic – 243 bottle caps here! 20 hard buoys over! – and very dirty. Gloves and a tolerance for foul smells were a must.

Divers on the marine debris removal mission prepare to sort through a pile of debris.

Divers on the marine debris removal mission prepare to sort through a pile of debris.

The marine debris removal team has done this cleanup at Midway Atoll for several years now, and besides the ultimate goal of cleaner beaches for wildlife, the data collection gives us information about the debris. On one beach, we did an accumulation survey using NOAA Marine Debris Program protocols, which can help us better understand how fast debris accumulates and whether there are any debris “hotspots.”

Midway Atoll is a fascinating place – not only because of its abundance of wildlife, but because of its tremendous history, including its pivotal role in World War II. It was a U.S. Naval Air Station, submarine base, and site of the Battle of Midway, a turning point of the war in the Pacific. Much of the Navy’s original infrastructure is still there.

Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the atoll, protecting the remaining historical presence in addition to the wildlife. Endangered Hawaiian monk seals, turtles, and a pod of spinner dolphins live there. Nearly three million birds, including the world’s largest population of albatross, nest on the islands.

Marine debris from a bird carcass at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge

Marine debris from a bird carcass at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.

As we walked the beaches, we saw dozens of bird carcasses with brightly colored plastics spilling out of their stomach cavities. We do not know whether the plastic caused any of their deaths, but it’s still a jarring sight. It’s an indicator of just how far our marine debris problem goes: Midway Atoll is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and none of these birds feed anywhere near an urban center.


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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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