NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

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Equipment Entangled in Essential Ecosystems: How Marine Debris is Harming Hawaiian Corals

Coral reefs are diverse and important marine ecosystems, supporting a wide array of marine life. Not only do they provide essential structure for habitats, but corals themselves are a unique and beautiful type of animal. However, these animals are also very delicate and are under threat by a preventable problem: marine debris.

Although all types of marine debris can threaten corals, there is one type in particular that can cause a lot of harm: derelict fishing gear (DFG). DFG is fishing equipment that has been lost, abandoned or discarded, and it’s a big problem. These derelict nets, lines, crab pots and other gear can not only cause economic loss, but damage habitat and harm marine animals. Corals, which are animals that also serve as an important habitat for many other creatures, can be particularly impacted by this threat. Corals can be suffocated by nets that smother them and block out the sun, or can be damaged and broken by heavy DFG that snags as it drifts by. These damages don’t only impact these interesting animals, but can affect the entire ecosystem that relies on the coral reef.

In the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, this issue was seen first-hand by NOAA divers in October 2014 when a removal trip in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM) discovered an 11.5 ton “monster net” among the area’s delicate coral reefs. It took divers four days to remove the net in its entirety. Unfortunately, despite a location many miles from larger human populations, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are still impacted by marine debris, and nets entangled in corals are not a rare sight.

A diver attempts to remove a large net entangled in corals. (Photo Credit: NOAA)

A diver attempts to remove a large net entangled in corals. (Photo Credit: NOAA)

Luckily, this is a preventable problem and we can work to fix it. By participating in cleanup efforts, we can remove some of the debris that’s already there. Most importantly, we can also work to increase awareness of the problem and prevent more trash and worn-out fishing gear from becoming marine debris. For example, programs such as Fishing for Energy work to prevent more derelict fishing gear from ending up where it shouldn’t; Fishing for Energy gives fishermen a cost-free option to recycle their gear, which is then converted into usable energy.

Don’t forget, we created the problem and we can all be part of the solution! Debris from inland sources can travel far and can still end up as marine debris, so just because you don’t live near the shore or near a beautiful coral reef doesn’t mean that you can’t help! Let’s all do our part to keep our ocean beautiful.



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CNMI Works Toward Recovery with MINA

By: Grace Chon, Pacific Islands Assistant Regional Coordinator for the NOAA Marine Debris Program

On August 2, 2015, Typhoon Soudelor struck the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) as a Category 2 typhoon directly over Saipan. The storm brought winds near 105 mph, heavy rains and coastal inundation. Unfortunately, this also means an increase in marine debris.

Previous to Soudelor, the Mariana Islands Nature Alliance (MINA), a nonprofit organization located in Saipan, was awarded funding through the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s (MDP) Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant competition; they have since been actively involved in cleaning their island and recovering from this natural disaster. Even with limited electricity and water, MINA has conducted 17 cleanups, recruited 121 volunteers, and collected 13,123 pounds of marine debris! MINA was previously funded by the MDP through a grant in 2010 to install seven recycling bins, each with the capacity to hold three 55 gallon drums and made of weather resistant material, to promote an island culture of recycling. All seven bins weathered the typhoon well and with this new grant, MINA will be installing an additional seven bins while developing a targeted education and outreach campaign.

MINA continues to restore the island at great strides and address the issue of marine debris while recovering from the damages left by Typhoon Soudelor. To find out more about the Pacific Islands Region or learn about how severe weather events can impact marine debris, visit our website.

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Oahu October Outreach

By: Grace Chon, Pacific Islands Assistant Regional Coordinator for the NOAA Marine Debris Program

October always includes various outreach events in Oahu. This past month, the Pacific Islands Regional Coordinator (Mark Manuel) and the Assistant Regional Coordinator (myself) participated in outreach events that reached 3 FIRST LEGO League (FLL) teams, 12 city and county planners, 12 Sea Life Park interns, 86 teachers, 88 second graders, and an additional 6,000 students!

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The NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) was invited by three schools to talk to students participating in the FLL’s 2015 TRASH TREK Challenge. Every year, the FLL encourages young people (ages 9-14) to explore the world of science and technology. This year, the FLL is having a competition where more than 233,000 children from over 80 countries will explore the world of trash! At each school, we were able to use the NOAA MDP “Trash Talk” videos to address their questions:

We’re excited to see what kinds of solutions the kids will create to invent new ways to clean up our ocean! Some ideas included flying machines and animals that were able to filter microplastics.

In addition to our FLL TRASH TREK Challenge presentations, we spoke to various audiences interested in marine debris— from city and county planners to all second graders at Waialae Elementary School. Our biggest event was partnering with the University of Hawaii School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology for their Open House Event, which occurs every two years. This event is widely advertised and NOAA has a strong presence there. During this two-day event, approximately 6,000 visitors (mostly students) flooded the campus and stopped by the marine debris booth to learn about microplastics, marine debris impacts, and what THEY could do to help prevent marine debris.

Take a look at our regional page to see what other projects are happening in the Pacific Islands Region!


NOAA PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Program Removed 32,201 Pounds of Marine Debris from Midway Atoll in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument!

By: James Morioka, Guest Blogger and Field Logistics Specialist with the NOAA PIFSC, Coral Reef Ecosystem Program

The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM), located around the mostly uninhabited Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, includes reefs, atolls, and shallow and deep-sea habitats which are home to more than 7,000 marine species, many unique to Hawai`i. Centrally located within the North Pacific Gyre, the PMNM is particularly prone to marine debris accumulation that presents potentially lethal threats to numerous marine and avian species. For example, of the approximately 1.5 million Laysan Albatrosses located at Midway Atoll in the far northwest of the PMNM, nearly all are found to have plastic in their digestive system, and roughly one-third of chicks die due to plastic ingestion.

An aerial image of Midway Atoll's barrier reef. (Photo Credit: NOAA PIFSC, Coral Reef Ecosystem Program)

An aerial image of Midway Atoll’s barrier reef. (Photo Credit: NOAA PIFSC, Coral Reef Ecosystem Program)

To combat this issue, a team of nine specialized divers from the NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) Coral Reef Ecosystem Program (CREP) conducted a 28-day operation to survey and remove marine debris at Midway Atoll, focusing on derelict fishing gear in shallow reef and shoreline environments. Debris accumulation and the concentration of microplastics (<5mm) and mesoplastics (between 5mm and 2.5cm) were also explored. The work was divided between in-water surveys and fishing gear removal from Midway’s barrier reef, and shoreline surveys and the removal of fishing gear and plastics from the beaches of all three of Midway’s islands (Sand Island, Eastern Island, and Spit Island). Overall, the team successfully removed 14,606 kilograms (32,201 pounds—that’s 6 elephants!) of derelict fishing gear and plastics.

Over the past three years, the cleanup effort at Midway Atoll has been focusing on removing derelict fishing gear and plastic items. Using a survey method modified from that used nationally by the NOAA Marine Debris Program, this study emphasizes the abundance of North Pacific fisheries-specific debris that accumulates in the Hawaiian Archipelago. By collecting, categorizing, and counting all of the removed debris, the team hopes to bring forth public awareness to what debris is accumulating, particularly everyday consumer products.

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Everyday products littered the beaches of Midway Atoll, none more prominently than plastic beverage bottles. A total of 3,486 beverage bottles were removed from the shorelines, along with 9,019 separate bottle caps. Hundreds of other household items such as toothbrushes, personal care products, plastic dishware, plastic utensils, and other plastic containers were also removed, along with 959 disposable cigarette lighters. Plastic pollution dominates the collection of marine debris along shorelines every year, and with outreach and education, the team hopes to vocalize the plastic issue and open the eyes of the everyday consumer. Fisheries-specific debris is also a big problem, such as derelict fishing nets, fishing buoys and floats, eel cone traps, and oyster spacer tubes (typically used in aquaculture to separate scallop shells during long line oyster farming and cultivation). This year, 4,366 plastic oyster spacers were removed, as well as 4,178 hard plastic buoys and 1,467 foam buoys.

The human-created problem of marine debris will continue to threaten the fragile, vital, and valuable coral reef ecosystems across the Hawaiian archipelago until a more permanent solution is found. Fortunately we can each do our part every day to help protect our environment and wildlife from the effects of marine debris. Working together– from recycling and reusing materials, to participating in beach cleanups in your area– we can make a difference!

The cleanup team removed, sorted, and tallied 32,201 pounds of marine debris! (Photo Credit: NOAA PIFSC, Coral Reef Ecosystem Program)

The cleanup team removed, sorted, and tallied 32,201 pounds of marine debris! (Photo Credit: NOAA PIFSC, Coral Reef Ecosystem Program)

This year’s operation was made possible by the NOAA PIFSC CREP, funding from the NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) and the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, and the in-kind services of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.

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The Unique Challenges of Removing Marine Debris from Kaho‘olawe

By: Dean Tokishi, Guest Blogger and Ocean Resources Specialist for the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission

Even as the smallest of the eight Main Hawaiian Islands, Kaho‘olawe still collects a significant amount of debris. This can affect the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve, which is the largest state-held, contiguous marine reserve in the Main Hawaiian Islands, providing undisturbed habitat for marine life where commercial activities are prohibited. Kaho‘olawe has a rich cultural history with close ties to the ocean and all of the marine life found within. This relationship is studied in both traditional and western ways. In the Hawaiian culture, Kaho‘olawe is recognized as the physical manifestation of Kanaloa, the Hawaiian god of the ocean and the foundation of the earth, highlighting the island’s sacredness and cultural significance. Unfortunately, the currents surrounding Kaho‘olawe create a constant threat of marine debris. The State of Hawaii’s Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC), located on Maui, oversees the environmental and cultural restoration of the island and its resources.

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Through a removal grant made possible by the NOAA Marine Debris Program, the KIRC has been able to engage close to 150 volunteers from around the state to support or participate in beach cleanup events on Kaho‘olawe. These efforts play a critical role in keeping this island clean, as there are several unique factors that make beach cleanups on Kaho‘olawe particularly challenging. This includes the need for volunteers to swim through heavily shark-populated waters from a boat to the cleanup site. The beach site, which was previously used as a bombing range, is home to all types of unexpected debris including shopping carts, bowling balls, and refrigerators. Due to the remote location of both the island and the beach site (Keoneuli, Kanapou), logistics and planning are always critical. If something is forgotten or urgently needed, the option of getting in a car and driving to get it is simply not feasible. Volunteers can only bring under 25 pounds of supplies per person, which includes all of their own camping equipment, food for 4 days, and personal gear. All supplies are then floated to the beach site. At the end of each 4-day trip, not only does everything brought into the site by volunteers need to be removed, but the collected debris must be removed as well. Due to the remote location and difficult logistics, all of the collected debris is flown out by helicopter sling load. To prepare for this removal method, the debris is staged and sorted before being bundled up into heavy netting. The four corners of the net are then secured by cable to the underbelly of a helicopter and flown across the 7 mile ‘Alalākeiki Channel to Maui. Once delivered by helicopter, the debris is driven to either a disposal site or recycling center.

The KIRC would like to thank all of the many volunteers that have worked so hard in helping with the removal and sorting process as well as the NOAA Marine Debris Program for the generous support. Because of all involved, nearly 12 tons of debris have been removed from the shorelines of Kaho‘olawe over an 18-month period!

For more information about this project, check out the project profile page.

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Hawaiian Islands: Marine Debris Prevention

Outreach and education are essential tools in the prevention of marine debris, and so the NOAA Marine Debris Program supports projects throughout the country that focus on these strategies. In Hawai‘i, one project focuses on educating the islands’ keiki (children) about marine debris and the ways that they can combat it.

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The Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund partnered with the NOAA Marine Debris Program to develop marine debris awareness and prevention curriculum for K-5 students in Hawaiʻi Island schools. Students were able to see how marine debris connects to their own daily behaviors and learn not to litter through hands-on activities such as creating signs and painting trash cans. Students were then able to spread awareness to their family and friends through several outreach and ohana (family/community) cleanup events.

For more information about this project, check out our project profile page. To get more information about other NOAA Marine Debris Program efforts in the Pacific Islands, visit:

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Diving into Ka Lae: A Small Nonprofit Receives International Cleanup Help on Hawaiʻi Island

By: Megan Lamson, Guest Blogger and Coordinator of the Hawaiʻi Island Marine Debris Removal Project for the Hawaiʻi Wildlife Fund

At the bottom of South Point Road in Kamaʻoa (Kaʻū district, SE Hawaiʻi) lies a well-known rocky shoreline named Ka Lae, translated from Hawaiian to mean point, promontory, or wisdom. The cliffs at Ka Lae (a.k.a. “South Point”) are internationally celebrated as the southernmost tip of the United States, domestically recognized as a National Historic Landmark, and are locally renowned for fishing and cliff jumping. Visitors and island residents alike flock to this rugged coastline for the opportunity to take a photo or to leap into the deep blue below. Unfortunately, this region is also a hub for the accumulation of marine debris.

In June, with support from the NOAA Marine Debris Program, Hawaiʻi Wildlife Fund (HWF, hosted its first-ever underwater cleanup event at this locale. With help from divers with the Sea Beautification Society (SBS) from Japan and a volunteer interpreter from Canada, this cleanup turned out to be a complete success. A dozen scuba divers were joined by 3 free-divers and 8 shoreline support volunteers. In total, the 23 participants were able to remove 157 pounds (71 kg) of marine debris, most of which was monofilament fishing line that was encrusted with invasive algae. This collaboration was first conceived when HWF linked up with SBS at an international Japan tsunami debris symposium hosted by JEAN (Japan Environmental Action Network) in Vancouver in October 2014. It is yet another reminder of how connected we all are, and how we can work together to take care of our planet.

HWF has been working to conserve native wildlife in Hawaiʻi since 1996 and removing marine debris from the shores of Hawaiʻi Island since 2003. During this time, HWF has hosted nearly 100 cleanup events and collectively removed over 161 metric tons (or 356,000 lbs.) of debris from Hawaiʻi Island with the help of thousands of community and visiting volunteers. This debris typically comes from faraway places on the Pacific Rim, such as the West coast of the U.S. and several countries in Asia; however, regardless of where it originates, it continues to be a threat to marine wildlife until it is removed from the marine and coastal environment. Marine debris is a people problem and HWF is committed to working with people on the island and around the globe to resolve this issue.

To get involved, donate, or find out more, please contact HWF at or call their marine debris reporting hotline at (808) 769-7629.


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