NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!


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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

Leave a comment

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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:

1 Comment

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.

Leave a comment

Marine Debris: In Your Region

By: Leah Henry

When you think of marine debris or ocean litter, is the first thing that comes to mind post-consumer waste,  lost fishing gear, or maybe abandoned and derelict vessels? The NOAA Marine Debris Program understands that issues and interest surrounding marine debris varies from region to region.

To learn more about current region and state specific marine debris projects and activities, click on In Your Region within our recently updated NOAA Marine Debris Program website ( and pick a region on the interactive map.

Leave a comment

Marine Debris Affects a Species Whether It Is Endangered or Not

By: Dianna Parker

Monk seal resting on a derelict net.

Marine debris throughout the ocean puts endangered species like this Hawaiian monk seal at risk.
(Photo: NOAA)

Marine debris impacts hundreds of species around the globe, including endangered species such as the Hawaiian monk seal. Derelict and abandoned fishing gear is a major culprit behind entanglements, and our colleagues in the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries reminded us all yesterday that even though some of these animals live in marine sanctuary safe havens, they are still not free from marine debris: 

“Although the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are one of the most remote places in the United States, the marine ecosystem there is still under pressure from human impacts. Papahānuamokuākea Marine National Monument provides one of the last remaining refuges for monk seals, whose population has shrunk to only 1,100 animals.”

With Endangered Species Day approaching this Friday, we’ll take a look at some other endangered or threatened species throughout the week – including turtles and whales – and how they’re impacted by marine debris. But today, let’s celebrate the Hawaiian monk seal (and the NOAA folks who removed the 11.5-ton derelict net on which this seal is taking its nap).



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 481 other followers