Trawl nets, gill nets, and other fishing gear lost or discarded by North Pacific fishing fleets are damaging the coral reefs and beaches of the Hawaiian Archipelago, including the more remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) and the populated main Hawaiian Islands (MHI). The derelict fishing gear (DFG) is transported in ocean currents, accumulating on reefs and beaches throughout the island chain. Once the DFG is snagged on the reef, wave action can cause it to break off coral heads and abrade the surrounding reef. Such damage can continue until the debris is removed or sinks, weighted down by the broken coral.
Monk seals, sea turtles, seabirds, whales, and other species become entangled in this derelict fishing gear, causing injury and sometimes death. Occasionally, divers find entangled animals still alive and are able to release them. Removing DFG and other marine debris from coral reefs and surrounding waters reduces habitat destruction and the risk of wildlife mortality, ultimately assisting the recovery of threatened and endangered species.
The Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center's Coral Reef Ecosystem Division has surveyed and removed marine debris from the NWHI annually since 1996. Areas surveyed include Pearl and Hermes Atoll, Midway Atoll, Kure Atoll, Lisianski Island, Maro Reef, and French Frigate Shoals. The goals of this program are to:
- Use underwater surveys to assess the abundance and distribution of marine debris on coral reefs in the NWHI,
- Use aerial surveys to assess the abundance and distribution of marine debris along the shorelines of the MHI,
- Remove marine debris from coral reef and nearshore habitats,
- Evaluate rates and sources of marine debris accumulation, and
- Increase public awareness of marine debris issues.
This work is funded by NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP) and Marine Debris Program (MDP). The CRCP supports scientific research and management solutions to preserve, sustain and restore valuable coral reef ecosystems. The MDP works with other NOAA offices and partners to support national, state, local, and international efforts to protect and conserve our nation's natural resources and coastal waterways from the effects of marine debris.