NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

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Derelict Fishing Nets and the Pacific Islands

Derelict fishing nets are a big marine debris problem. These nets can entangle wildlife, create major hazards to navigation, and can damage sensitive and important habitats. Unfortunately, they can also be difficult to address as they often have few identifying characteristics. This makes determining their source challenging and makes derelict nets difficult to track.

Derelict fishing nets are a particularly large problem in the Hawaiian archipelago, due to Hawaii’s geographic location in the North Pacific Gyre and Convergence Zone and the large amounts of fishing that occurs domestically and internationally in the Pacific. The North and East Coast shorelines of each Hawaiian Island are the most impacted, due to the northeast trade winds that blow this debris ashore. These nets may come from local origin or from far-off sources throughout the Pacific, but it’s difficult to tell without identifying markers such as a specific regional style (which can often be used to determine the general source of debris like derelict crab traps), serial numbers, or writing. Interestingly, Hawaii’s main commercial fishing industry is longline fishing targeting pelagic (open ocean) species, but the majority of the nets and ropes found in Hawaii are made of trawl or purse seine types, which suggests they are likely not of local origin.

No matter where these derelict nets hail from, they create a problem in this region that must be addressed. Prevention is the key to addressing marine debris, so raising awareness about the issue and educating fishermen is important. However, since the origin of most of these derelict nets is unknown and there are already many nets that litter Hawaiian shores, removal is also a very important part of solving the problem of derelict fishing nets. Recently, the NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) Pacific Islands Regional staff have received an increase in reports of huge derelict fishing net conglomerates, so removal efforts are particularly important.

There are currently many groups that are working to remove this debris, including the Hawai’i Wildlife Fund, which is leading net patrols and removing debris from over 200 miles of coastline on four different Hawaiian islands through a project recently funded by a MDP Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant. Surfrider Kaua’i, previously funded by the MDP, is also active in conducting net patrols in Hawaii (check out the giant net they found!). In addition, there are numerous organizations performing beach cleanups in this area, including the State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources; these efforts have been an excellent example of the collaborative efforts put forth to implement the Hawai’i Marine Debris Action Plan. This removed debris is disposed of properly and when possible, and recycled through programs such as the Hawai’i Nets to Energy Program.

For more on derelict fishing nets in Hawaii, check out this 2014 interview with NOAA scientists.

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Marine Debris in the Pacific Islands

Picture of Mark Manuel.Meet Mark Manuel, the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s (MDP’s) Pacific Islands Regional Coordinator! Mark is a Hawaii native, and received his B.S. in Marine Science and M.S. in Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science from the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. Before joining the MDP, Mark spent six years with the NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, Coral Reef Ecosystem Program. He now works in Honolulu, where he oversees marine debris removal and research projects, the Hawai‘i Nets-to-Energy program, and the NOAA Observer Program at-sea marine debris encounter reports. Mark also works with the Consulate of Japan to confirm tsunami marine debris, is part of numerous emergency response networks, and communicates with the U.S. Coast Guard and state agencies to address Abandoned and Derelict Vessels. Reach out to Mark at!

Picture of Grace Chon.Meet Grace Chon, the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s Pacific Islands Assistant Regional Coordinator! Grace was born and raised in Maryland and received her B.S. in Biology at the University of Maryland, College Park. After graduating and living in Venezuela for a year, she headed to Hawai’i Pacific University, where she earned her M.S. in Marine Science. As the Assistant Regional Coordinator, Grace now works in Honolulu, Hawaii, where she focuses on marine debris prevention projects, Hawai’i Marine Debris Action Plan activities, regional outreach efforts, and coordination in the territories. Reach out to Grace at!


The Pacific Islands are full of sun, sand, and unfortunately… marine debris. Like many other coastal areas, the Pacific Islands are not immune to the impacts of marine debris. Due to the Pacific Islands’ position in the Pacific Ocean and in relation to the North Pacific Gyre and ocean currents, they are often inundated with debris from both local and far-off sources. Luckily, there are many great efforts underway to address and prevent marine debris in this area. Check out a couple newly-established projects funded by the NOAA Marine Debris Program:

Preventing marine debris is the ultimate solution to the problem, so Pacific Whale Foundation (PWF) is working to do just that! They’ve launched a public awareness campaign focused on tobacco-free beaches in Maui, Hawaii. To get the word out, they’re creating public service announcements, developing handouts and outreach materials, and giving presentations. PWF is also hosting an art contest to promote marine debris outreach and education. For more on this project, check out the project profile on our website.

Unfortunately, there’s enough marine debris out there that we also must work on removing it. To help clean our shores, Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund is leading an effort to remove as much debris as possible from over 200 miles of coastline on four different islands in Hawaii! Engaging hundreds of volunteers, they aim to remove approximately 55 metric tons (about 120,000 pounds) of marine debris! For more on this project, check out the project profile on our website.

A group of people on a beach.

Volunteers at Kamilo Point participated in the International Coastal Cleanup event in Sept 2016 and helped to remove 1.71 metric tons (3,765 pounds) of marine debris from a 1km stretch of coastline on Hawai‘i Island. (Photo Credit: Dr. Drew Kapp, HWF)

There are lots of cool things going on in the Pacific Islands! Keep your eye on our blog this week for more, and check out our website for more interesting marine debris projects in the Pacific Islands and throughout the country!

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There’s a New Art Contest in Maui, So Do Your Part and Make Some Art!

Through a project supported by a NOAA Marine Debris Program Prevention through Education and Outreach grant, the Pacific Whale Foundation is launching a Tidal Trash Treasures Art Contest in Maui, Hawaii! Applicants must create artwork made from marine debris that they collected during a cleanup and must reflect the theme “healthy oceans, healthy marine life.”

For more information on this exciting competition, please see the flyer below. Entries are due Friday, February 17th with an entry “fee” of 25 littered cigarette butts removed from a beach, park, or public area.

Tidal Trash Treasures Art Contest Flyer.

Tidal Trash Treasures Art Contest Flyer. (Credit: Pacific Whale Foundation)

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New Marine Debris Prevention Curriculum Reaches Over 1,000 Students!

By: Megan Lamson, Guest Blogger and Vice President for the Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund

Hawaiʻi Wildlife Fund (HWF) is excited about the release of the new marine debris prevention curriculum designed for elementary school students around Hawaiʻi, created through a project funded by a NOAA Marine Debris Program Prevention through Education and Outreach grant.

Over the past two school years, HWF mentors piloted this curriculum in 20 public schools, working with over 52 teachers and 1,140 students (grades K-5) in schools around Hawaiʻi Island (including schools located in Kona, Kohala, Kaʻū, Hāmākua, Hilo, and Puna). “It was a great pleasure guest teaching in the many different classrooms around the island.  We look forward to deepening our relationships with Hawaiʻi Island students and teachers in the coming years” said HWF mentor and Education Coordinator, Stacey Breining.

The “Marine Debris Keiki Education and Outreach” curriculum teaches children about aquatic life and ecosystems (basic marine biology concepts), marine debris and how land-based litter finds its way into the sea, what a “discard” is and how our daily choices affect the amount of trash we produce, and the vulnerability of island ecosystems and communities and the responsibility (kuleana) that we each have to protect them.

The curriculum was designed as a 3-tiered program that challenges students to put forward innovative solutions to the global marine debris problem. The lessons are aligned with Hawaiʻi’s Common Core and Next Generation Science standards and other benchmarks relevant to the elementary school level.  All of the lessons and activities are available for free download from the HWF website and can also be found on the NOAA Marine Debris Program website.

As an optional follow-up component of this program, nine cleanup events were conducted, during which 286 students participated in removing over 1,500 pounds of marine- and land-based debris items from the local coastline, stream banks, or their campus!

Check out this awesome new curriculum free of charge on the Hawaiʻi Wildlife Fund website or on the NOAA Marine Debris Program website.

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Announcing the 2016 Hawai’i Marine Debris Action Plan!

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

The NOAA Marine Debris Program is excited to announce the release of the 2016 Hawai’i Marine Debris Action Plan (HI-MDAP)! The HI-MDAP establishes a comprehensive framework for strategic action to reduce the ecological, health and safety, and economic impacts of marine debris in Hawai‘i by 2020. This updated plan was the result of a July workshop for Hawaii’s marine debris community. Forty-two federal, state, county, non-governmental, academic, and private participants left the three-day workshop energized and ready to move forward with this strategic action plan. The 2016 HI-MDAP launches with 107 total actions underway by 48 organizations. Four working huis (groups) were created to increase communication and collaboration: Prevention, Removal, Abandoned and Derelict Vessels, and Research. Members are excited to be involved in these new working huis and welcome others to join!

Check out the updated plan on our website!

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Removing Debris with Surfrider in Kaua‘i

By: Mark Manuel, Pacific Islands Regional Coordinator for the Marine Debris Program

Kaua‘i’s eastern coastline offers beautiful white sand beaches with a wide variety of activities for locals and visitors alike. However, due to the regional northeast trade winds, these beaches are also severely impacted by marine debris. Fortunately, the Surfrider Organization Kaua‘i Chapter (Surfrider) has been combating the inevitable flux of marine debris arriving to this coastline since 2007.

To manage this issue, Surfrider conducts weekly “net patrols,” where volunteers traverse miles of beaches, removing large debris items ranging from conglomerates of fishing nets, gas cylinders, tires, and even the occasional derelict vessel.  The core group of Surfrider volunteers also organizes monthly community beach cleanups to educate the public through hands-on removal activities. This past year, the NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) partnered with Surfrider to support these removal efforts from June 2015 to June 2016, funded through collaboration with the National Marine Sanctuaries Foundation.

In one year, Surfrider and volunteers conducted 27 community cleanups and 120 net patrols, resulting in the removal of an astounding 47,358 pounds of marine debris! Of this total, 15,180 pounds were shipped off for recycling and to create energy through various partnerships, including the Hawai‘i Nets-to-Energy Program.

For more on removal efforts supported by the MDP, check out our website.

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Marine Debris’ No Joke

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

“I’m just a fish

I ain’t got no arms

And all this trash in my home

Can cause me plenty of harm…”

If you listen to Honolulu Theatre for Youth’s (HTY) song “Marine Debris’ No Joke,” you’ll hear the rest of their creative and entertaining lyrics and voices used to educate audiences, including over 17,000 students and teachers from 118 schools, through performances focused on the issue of marine debris and what YOU can do to help stop this problem. Since 1955, HTY has been producing professional theater and drama education programs that aim to make a difference in the lives of young people, families, and educators in the state of Hawai‘i. This year, HTY partnered with the NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) and many other organizations to produce “H20: The Story of Water and Hawai‘i.” Funded through collaboration with the National Marine Sanctuaries Foundation, HTY collaborated with the MDP on the marine debris portion, where facts and useful information are presented in an extremely innovative and lively way!

Before attending HTY’s show, teachers were encouraged to give a lesson on marine debris and to lead a beach cleanup, using the collected debris for each student to create a small art piece. If teachers were unable to hold a beach cleanup before attending, marine debris was provided for their class. At the end of HTY’s show, students added their artwork to a larger piece of marine debris art being created at the Honolulu Museum of Art, which will be showcased at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, World Conservation Congress event in Hawai‘i this September.

Seeing the production and learning about marine debris was meaningful for both the teachers and the students. Teachers commented that:

“The show was perfect for 4th grade. The format was entertaining and kept the kids engaged. The Hawaiian language and mo’olelo (storytelling) really helped the students get a better understanding of how important wai (water/ocean) is.”

 “I know that the students were 100% engaged during the entire show! They came back to school and bragged to their friends that it was the best field trip ever! They loved the raps, costumes, plastic trash decorations on set!”

While students exclaimed:

“One thing I learned was about water pollution. I would like to become a water hero so that I can help to clean up the beaches and help the ocean’s wildlife.”

 “I loved your play so much! It was the best play I’ve ever seen. I learned that the animals in the ocean might eat plastic that we throw into the ocean. I felt very sad for them! I really think that your H20 crew made me think I should help and pick up plastic from the beaches.”

In addition to their engaging and informative play and as part of the same educational program, HTY also produced H2O Drama Education Workshops. These included 18 workshops hosted in 13 schools, which taught 959 K-4th grade students about marine debris in a hands-on, engaging, and dramatic style. Bringing the subject home in such a way enables students to connect to the issue without getting overwhelmed by this serious problem.

The impact this program has on students and teachers has continued well beyond the stage and can continue to be referenced to help students connect from the classroom to the ocean. HTY says it best –

“Marine debris’ no joke

It’s all man made

It don’t belong in the ocean

Know what I’m sayin’?”