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53 Tons of Marine Debris Removed from Northwest Hawaiian Islands National Monument: Big Island Now

The second major cleanup at Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the northwest Hawaiian Islands revealed 53 tons of marine debris.

The debris was cleared from the reefs and beaches of the islands and atolls.

The project was led by a 16-person team from the Hawaii-based nonprofit Papahānaumokuākea Marine Debris Project.

The 16-strong team recently returned to Honolulu after their second 30-day large-scale clean-up expedition to Papahānaumokuākea in 2022 aboard the 185-foot vessel M/V Imua.

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This year’s total amount of marine debris removed is 202,950 pounds, equivalent to the weight of 10 full-size school buses or more than three humpback whales.

The latest move brings the organization a total of half a million pounds of debris removal since it began large-scale cleanup operations two years ago.

In addition to removing ghost nets and plastic from the ocean, the team also worked on this mission to salvage an abandoned ship that had been stranded in Manawai, Pearl and Hermes Atoll, for more than a year.

The ship, a lifeboat from the 650-foot car transporter Sincerity Ace, was left adrift near Papahānaumokuākea after a wildfire on board caused the ship to be abandoned at sea in January 2019.

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During their recent cleanup, the team found the following:

  • Removed 64,000 pounds of ghost nets from the reefs
  • Removed 32,530 pounds of ghost net from shores
  • 9,125 pounds of plastic waste from the oceans have been removed from shores

With its team of highly qualified freedivers, the Papahānaumokuākea Marine Debris Project conducted and focused cleanup operations in Kapou (Lisianski Island), Manawai (Pearl and Hermes Atoll), Kuaihelani (Midway Atoll) and Hōlanikū (Kure Atoll). on cutting ghost nets out of coral reefs.

The team successfully cleaned and restored more than 1,600 acres of shallow (less than 30 feet deep) coral reefs larger than three times the size of Diamondhead Crater, while also rescuing two Hawaiian green sea turtles who became entangled in ghost nets.

The lifeboat had been aground on one of Manawai’s most pristine islands since at least June 2021, posing a threat that seabirds would become trapped and contaminated by the onboard diesel fuel, batteries and engine fluids.

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The Papahānaumokuākea Marine Debris Project team used sand anchors and pulley blocks to winch the boat higher onto the beach, where it repaired large tears in the fiberglass hull before being hauled back into the water and towed 5 miles offshore to the waiting M/V Imua.

An estimated 57 tons of marine debris accumulates on the reefs of Papahānaumokuakea each year. 2022 was the first year of the organization’s 5-year strategic plan to “catch up” on lagging accumulation and “keep up” with the new annual inflow.

Through intensive removal, this ambitious goal aims to reduce the impact of marine debris to the lowest possible level and give the marine monument’s wildlife the best long-term chance of survival.

The mission was supported by Marc and Lynne Benioff, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, the NOAA Marine Debris Program, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the McPike-Zima Foundation, and numerous community donors. NOAA support includes funding from the bipartisan Infrastructure Act of 2022.

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