NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

A Glorious Day, but Not Much Debris


Can you imagine those people who decide one day to hike the Appalachian Trail and go out and buy some boots at K-Mart and head off? Can you imagine how they feel on day 3? The nervous energy is gone, the lack of conditioning and research starts to show, the aches and pains have blossomed. You can see where this is going…

OK, it’s only my second full day of marine debris removal operations and there was much less pulling involved, but I’m knackered. Again, up before dawn, out at dawn, and back at the waning hours of dinner. Here’s a shot of the Sette as we motored away this morning.

But in spite of my fatigue, I must say this is one gorgeous area, and today was one spectacular day. Just the variety of blues of the water, from Caribbean ad aqua to Lake Huron in winter blue-grey, through every shade of blue, green, and even a few browns above shallow algal turfs, was worth the fatigue. I tried to take a few photos of the water looking like a swimming pool, with big dapples of sunlight refracting onto the shallow seafloor. They don’t do it justice, but they’re mine. I hope they’ll allow me to remember how it looked.

Today we mostly did towed-diver surveys. I’ve asked some of the divers to write guest blog entries, and I’m hoping one of them will come through with one about towing. It’s fairly straightforward if you’re in the boat. You drive the boat on a mowing-the-lawn pattern over a prescribed “box” or you spot the towed divers. They signal with a thumbs up to go faster, a thumbs down to go slower, or a raised fist for “Hey, stop the boat! I spotted a net!” We were almost-but-not-quite skunked today. We got about 40 kilograms, which was made up of little dribs and drabs at five or six locations. None of them required an extended stop, although Marie spent some time rescuing the fish, crabs, brittle stars, and sea cucumbers that were living in the nets or the dead coral heads that had been entrained in the nets. This one’s called a pom-pom crab.

Spotting little or no debris left plenty of time to chat and get to know my team members. I learned that Mark is a coral reef ecologist about to finish his master’s at University of Hawai’i-Hilo on spillover of fish from marine protected areas. Guy is starting medical school in August. We talked about what motivated them and what water experience led them to apply for this tough, temporary job. I suspect that the story of each team member is unique but each is fascinating. Mark was drawn to the marine debris aspect because he and his family are from Ka’u, the southern end of the Big Island of Hawai’i. South Point is a notorious and you-gotta-see-it-to-believe-it accumulation point for big and little debris. He’s participated in cleanups at South Point and wanted to see the other big daddy of accumulation areas, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Guy has promised to write a blog entry about the training they endured before starting the cleanups.

To be honest, for our boat it was a better day for wildlife than for debris. A booby decided to join us for lunch, but several ulua (also known as giant trevally or jacks) thought they’d like to nip its feet, so the poor booby had to keep a sharp eye and threaten the ulua with its rather intimidating beak when they approached too close.

After lunch, Guy jumped in and swam up under the booby. He must have been even more scary than an ulua, because the booby took off and landed a safe distance away. We had stopped for lunch near a pinnacle that attracts a lot of fish, so I finally got in the water when we finished eating (sorry, mom, we didn’t wait an hour!). Kyle tried his best to get a photo of me with ulua, but I was too full to dive far. Sounds like a paradox, but the real divers agreed that the digestive action makes it hard to hold your breath very long with a full stomach. Kyle and Guy demonstrate how to hang loose near the bottom, and the very nice photo of small fish living in the pinnacle was taken by Kyle.

Later we spotted four eagle rays and tried to slip in the water near them. I caught a quick glimpse, but the visibility at that point wasn’t great, and they were on their way far away from us and our noisy boat. So no photos, but someone who works for the government drew this nice picture.

Tomorrow is another day of hunting debris, in a slightly different part of the vast Pearl and Hermes Atoll. Do I hope we find more? I guess I do. Maybe someday we’ll see the results of prevention measures, so there are fewer nets to find. But for now, I’m pretty sure they’re out there, and I want us to find them before the seals, sea turtles, or coral reefs do.

Author: NOAA Marine Debris Program

The NOAA Marine Debris Program envisions the global ocean and its coasts, users, and inhabitants free from the impacts of marine debris. Our mission is to investigate and solve the problems that stem from marine debris, in order to protect and conserve our nation's marine environment, natural resources, industries, economy, and people.

4 thoughts on “A Glorious Day, but Not Much Debris

  1. Can you discuss in a future blog entry the origin and evolution of the term “marine debris”? It’s always seemed a bit of a euphemism as most of what it refers to is plastic pollution in one form or another, and the term “debris” traditionally refers to things like soil, sticks, leaves, logs, coconuts, as in the term “debris flow” (

    We’ve heard that the plastic industry strongly influenced the proliferation of the term “marine debris”.

  2. We will indeed discuss this in a future blog. Stay tuned!

  3. Where did you hear that the plastic industry influenced the term ‘marine debris’?

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