The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Wednesday that a team of scientists hauled 47.2 tons of marine debris out of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the North Pacific Ocean.
A crew of 12, which completed their expedition over 24 days, included staff from NOAA Fisheries, the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Hawaii Pacific University’s Center for Marine Debris Research. Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is the largest contiguous fully protected conservation area in the U.S., encompassing an area larger than all the country’s national parks combined, according to the national monument’s website. The monument is in the northern Pacific Ocean and surrounded by what is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — a huge gyre of floating plastic and other debris that circulates in ocean currents. The islands act like a comb that gather debris on its otherwise pristine beaches.
“This is the one critical issue facing the wildlife of Papahānaumokuākea that we can really do something about.” project lead Kevin O’Brien said in a news release. “There is so much to love about this incredible place. If we’re not up there cleaning up this threat, nobody is.” Endangered Hawaiian monk seals, threatened green sea turtles, seabirds, and other species are routinely found entangled in derelict fishing gear in Papahānaumokuākea, according to the release.
The 47.2-ton haul, which translates to about 94,400 pounds, was made up of these derelict fishing gear — so-called ghost nets — and ocean plastics. The team removed debris from Laysan Island, Lisianski Island, Midway Atoll, French Frigate Shoals and Kure Atoll. According to a 2018 study in Scientific Reports, ghost nets make up at least 46 percent of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Most of it will be incinerated and used to power hundreds of Oahu homes, said the news release.