NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!


Debris Removal at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge: Midway Through the Mission

By: Ryan Tabata and Rhonda Suka, Guest Bloggers and Scientists with the NOAA Coral Reef Ecosystem Program

 The NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) Coral Reef Ecosystem Program’s (CREP) removal mission in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands is already half way through! The removal team has finished its work at Midway Atoll and is headed to Kure Atoll for the next phase of the effort. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for daily updates on this effort, as well as CREP’s interactive daily map.

A beautiful white sand beach with two boats full of bags of debris offshore.

The team is removing marine debris from Midway Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. (Photo Credit: NOAA PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Program)

We were greeted by Bonin Petrels flying in the night like shooting stars and were shuttled in stretch limo golf carts to our rooms. The following morning, a brilliant orange sunrise unveiled all that is Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. The air was dense with the calls of millions of nesting seabirds; the fuzzy brown Laysan Albatross chicks were begging for food between the elaborate dances of the adult birds.

This year, Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge is one of the locations where the NOAA CREP has sent their marine debris team to remove tens of thousands of pounds of debris, funded by the NOAA Marine Debris Program and the NOAA Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Our first day began with a Laysan Albatross slalom course on bicycles. We dodged the chicks on the ground as swooping adults practiced their crash landing techniques. As we arrived at the boat ramp, we found a cute monk seal snoozing, so we adjusted our plans and launched the boat in an alternate location. Being in a National Wildlife Refuge means we have to change our plans for the sleeping natives. Being so immersed with the local wildlife can have its perks though, and a large pod of spinner dolphins would occasionally play alongside our boat and escort us out of the harbor.

Upon arriving on the powdery white sand beaches, we found fishing nets, floats, and an assortment of plastics that had preceded our arrival. Our hearts sank as we painstakingly removed each piece of debris that had washed ashore on this remote island. Although our muscles ached and faces and lips got charred from the sun, our hearts lightened with each 50 pound bag and 500 pound net that was removed, knowing that we were fortunate enough to find and remove these wildlife entanglement hazards before more damage was caused.

Have you ever lost a shoe, an umbrella, or a baseball? Maybe a water bottle, swim fins, or even a bowling ball? They all float and can all end up on shorelines in faraway places. Midway is 1,300 miles from the nearest city (Honolulu) and has collected debris from across the globe. The most harmful debris are the fishing nets that wash up on the shorelines because they are great at catching monk seals, turtles, sea birds, and sharks. These indiscriminate killers can range from hand-sized fragments to behemoths weighing over 20,000 pounds!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

During our eight days of marine debris removal on the beaches of Midway, we collected 15,206 pounds of debris. More than half of that weight was from derelict fishing gear. While the animals may not know why we are stealthily working around them, we are committed to our work, knowing that we can make a difference for the nesting seabirds and 1,300 critically endangered monk seals. Last week we left Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Our next stops include various islands in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to continue our mission. We can all do our part and we hope we have inspired you to make a difference.

1 Comment

Snorkelers Looking to Remove Marine Debris Find a Surprise and Something Great Happens

The NOAA Marine Debris Program 10 year anniversary identity marker.

The NOAA Marine Debris Program is celebrating our 10-year anniversary throughout 2016. As part of this celebration, we’d like to take the time to look back on some of our past work. Check out this entangled sea turtle that was found back in 2006 and happily released back into Hawaiian waters, free of marine debris.


Unfortunately, sights like this are far too common.

A sea turtle entangled in a derelict net.

A sea turtle entangled in a derelict net. (Photo Credit: NOAA)

Marine debris can impact our ocean in many ways, one of which is wildlife entanglement. Here, a sea turtle is entangled in a derelict fishing net.


Luckily for this sea turtle, it was discovered during a NOAA removal effort.

A snorkeler checks out the extent of the sea turtle's entanglement.

A snorkeler checks out the extent of the sea turtle’s entanglement. (Photo Credit: NOAA)

As members of the NOAA marine debris removal effort in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands were about to start the process of removing a large derelict net ensnared on some coral, they found a surprise— this poor entangled sea turtle!

Each year, NOAA supports this effort to remove marine debris from the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, which resulted in over 14.5 metric tons of debris collected last year alone!


Snorkelers worked carefully to cut away the derelict net.

Once they found the entangled turtle, snorkelers got to work to free it. They carefully began cutting away the derelict net, careful not to harm the animal.


The entangled turtle would not have been able to free itself and would likely have died if it had not been found.

It took some time to work the turtle free from the net. Having become severely entangled, likely by first swimming into the net without realizing it, and then entangling itself further as it struggled to be free, the turtle would not have been able to free itself on its own. It would have likely perished in a short amount of time via starvation from not being able to locate or ingest food, exhaustion or drowning as it struggled to reach the surface for air, or predation, as being caught in a net made it an easy target for predators.


Luckily, this turtle’s encounter with marine debris had a happy ending.

This turtle was fortunate enough to be found and released. Unfortunately, many animals that are affected by marine debris are not so lucky.



Those involved gained the truly rewarding feeling of seeing the direct benefits of their work as the newly-freed turtle happily swam away. Although many efforts against marine debris don’t have the benefit of seeing their positive impacts, all efforts— no matter how small— make a difference. A fisherman who recycles his old net may prevent this from happening to another creature. The city-dweller who chooses not to take a plastic bag from the grocery store and instead brings a reusable bag may prevent another turtle from ingesting plastic debris. We can all make a difference. People are the sole cause of marine debris, but that gives us the power to defeat it.

To see the video of another heartwarming release, check out our website.

Leave a comment

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.



Leave a comment

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.

Leave a comment

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

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.

1 Comment

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.

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.