NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

Tackling Marine Debris – Hawai‘i Style!

Leave a comment

By Leigh Kroeger, Cardiff University student intern, and Carey Morishige, NOAA Marine Debris Program/IMSG

Rubbish. Trash. Debris. Junk. Waste. Call it what you want, but by 2020 there will hopefully be less of these words impacting the environment, human health, safety, and the economy in Hawai‘i.  That is the goal of the new Hawai’i Marine Debris Action Plan (HI-MDAP) rolled out on January 12, 2010. The ultimate goal of the plan is to reduce the ecological, health and safety, and economic impacts of marine debris in Hawai‘i by 2020.

So, you’re probably asking yourself, “Why should I care about this plan?”  Whether you’re a local or a visitor, a fisherman or simply someone who enjoys the view, the ocean that surrounds us is inextricably tied to life here in the islands. And marine debris threatens our ocean environment every day.

The Hawaiian Islands are the most remote archipelago in the world and unfortunately a hot spot for marine debris accumulation. Due to various oceanic features, these islands act as a “comb” for foreign and domestic debris from across the greater Pacific. The impacts of this debris are many and include entanglement, ingestion, habitat damage (for example, coral reef scouring), ghostfishing, navigation hazards to vessels, and even human health and safety. Yet if there is one aspect of marine debris that most people notice, it’s the fact that marine debris does nothing to help the beauty of our beaches and shores.  Bottom line: it’s an eyesore, can be a safety issue, and quite likely affects our economy.  Would you pay thousands of dollars to lie on a Hawaiian beach next to a derelict fishing net? Or pile of cigarette butts? Or picnic trash?  I doubt it.

So, what is Hawai‘i doing about it?  For many, many years, government agencies, non-profits, businesses, schools, and industry partners have been and continue to be involved in addressing the issue of marine debris here in our state.  For example, in the early 1980s marine debris removal efforts (by NOAA) began in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI); large-scale debris removal in this area began in 1996.  Since then, over 700 tons of derelict fishing gear (DFG) has been removed by NOAA and the U.S. Coast Guard.  The debris, instead of going to already full landfills, is used to create electricity through Hawaii’s Nets to Energy Program, a program successful because of the kokua and support of private businesses involved. Across our state, nearly every other weekend volunteers with non-profits help to clean debris from shores and reefs.  Schools take students out to experience, hands-on, how they can make a difference doing something as easy as picking up a piece of trash from the beach or a stream. The Hawai‘i Marine Debris Action Plan and the work leading up to it have succeeded in increasing collaboration and cooperation among partners across the state to more effectively address marine debris.
The work leading up to this action plan began in 2007 with representatives from all sectors involved in marine debris activities in Hawai‘i being engaged in the process.  The combined input from partners allowed for clear, common objectives to be discussed and ensured the inclusion of everyone’s ideas.  The partners ultimately decided that an action plan was a clear necessity to outline what it would take to effectively address marine debris in Hawai‘i.

There are four main goal areas of the action plan:
1.    Reduce the “backlog” of marine debris in the ocean and on our shores
2.    Decrease dumping of solid waste and fishing gear at sea
3.    Decrease the number of abandoned and derelict vessels
4.    Reduce land-based sources of debris

The work has already begun and continues to build momentum, carrying the plan forward. For example, NOAA is moving forward with a collaborative partnership project to look at ways to increase and smooth coordination between government agencies that assist in responding to non-hazardous marine debris items on O‘ahu.  The state Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation is making strides in their work to help address and prevent abandoned and derelict vessels, another form of marine debris. Cleanup efforts, like the large-scale, community-based cleanups being led by the Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund on the Big Island of Hawai‘i, continue as do outreach efforts such as the Reef Watch Waikiki’s marine debris program with Jefferson Elementary School.

This plan is designed and meant to be one that is dynamic, constantly being updated and changing as activities and actions occur.  It is not meant to sit on a shelf and collect dust.

2020 seems a long ways away, but the reality is that to effectively reduce the impacts of marine debris, change must begin now.  The first stepping stone has been laid with the rolling out of the Hawai‘i Marine Debris Action Plan.  The NOAA Marine Debris Program is committed to continuing support of the plan and helping it achieve its goals.  Marine debris is a global problem, but there is plenty that we can do here for our state.  Working together we can make a difference.

If your group or organization is involved in marine debris activities in Hawai‘i and would like to be a part of the HI-MDAP please visit

Other states are currently working on similar action plans to address marine debris.  Hawai‘i was the first.

How you can help every day (for free!):
•    Get involved. Participate in beach or stream cleanups in your area.
•    Dispose of your trash properly.
•    Remember that our land and sea are connected. Trash that enters streams eventually makes its way to the ocean.
•    Reuse items whenever possible.  Choose reusable items over disposable ones.
•    Recycle as much as possible. Bottles, cans, bags, cell phones, and many other items can be recycled.
•    Recycle your fishing line or throw it away in the proper place.

Out of sight, out of mind?  This is what becomes of plastic bottles and other plastic debris.  They just become smaller and smaller pieces of trash. Photo: NOAA Marine Debris Program

An endangered Hawaiian monk seal with a discarded container lodged over its muzzle.  If the container was not removed, this seal may have been unable to eat, and thus starved. Photo: NOAA Fisheries, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center taken under MMPA/ESA permit #848-1365

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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s