Expedition Embarks to Survey and Remove Marine Debris in the Papahanāumokuākea Marine National Monument

April 12, 2016 (updated 4/28/2016)

Scientists from the Coral Reef Ecosystem Program (CREP) of the NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) departed today on a 32-day mission to survey and remove derelict fishing gear and plastic debris from the shorelines of the Papahanʻumokuʻkea Marine National Monument (PMNM) in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI). The mission includes a 15-day land-based mission at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, and a 17-day ship-based mission aboard the NOAA Ship Hiʻialakai (in conjuction with the Protected Species Division's Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program Field Camp Deployment mission) at Kure Atoll, Pearl and Hermes Atoll, Lisianski Island, Laysan Island, and French Frigate Shoals.

As the scientists travel along the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, follow the course of their mission with this interactive Story Map!

The 2016 NOAA Coral Reef Ecosystem Program Marine Debris team poses in front of the NOAA Ship Hiʻìalakai.
The 2016 NOAA Coral Reef Ecosystem Program Marine Debris team poses in front of the NOAA Ship Hiʻìalakai.

The islands and atolls of the Hawaiian Archipelago are centrally located within the North Pacific Gyre, which makes the PMNM particularly prone to marine debris accumulation. The gyre is a clockwise circular pattern of four prevailing ocean currents (North Pacific, California, North Equatorial, and Kuroshio currents), in which debris from around the North Pacific Rim gathers and circulates. NWHI reefs and islands in particular, act as a filter amassing marine debris that presents potentially lethal entanglement hazards and ingestion threats to numerous marine and avian species (Donahue et al., 2001). The relatively small emergent land areas of these islands, a combined 15 km2, provide breeding and nesting habitat for the critically endangered Hawaiian monk seal, sea turtles, and 14 million seabirds representing 22 species.

The primary mission objectives include the removal of derelict fishing gear and plastics as well as the continuation of a study to aid in the quantification of marine debris accumulation in the NWHI. Using a slightly modified version of the standard shoreline survey used nationally by the NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP), the CREP Marine Debris Project tailored its study to emphasize the abundance of fisheries-specific debris that accumulates in the Hawaiian Archipelago. The other mission objectives include the detection of Japan tsunami-related debris, and a study of micro-plastic (<5mm) surface-water concentrations and meso-plastic (5mm-2.5cm) shoreline concentrations.

The 2015 Marine Debris team poses among the 14,606 kg. (32,200 lbs.) of marine debris collected from Midway Atoll.
The 2015 Marine Debris team poses among the 14,606 kg. (32,200 lbs.) of marine debris collected from Midway Atoll.

Removal of debris from the shorelines of the NWHI will reduce the risk of entanglement for the Hawaiian monk seal and other wildlife that live in these remote, protected areas. The debris removed from the shorelines will be loaded onboard the Hiʻialakai and transported to Honolulu, where it will be sorted, tallied, and presented at a special PIFSC Marine Debris outreach event Friday May 20, for local elementary and intermediate school students and IRC employees. All debris items exhibited at the outreach event will be re-used at art shows, recycled into re-usable material for manufacturing goods, or recycled and/or converted into renewable energy through the Nets-to-Energy program.

(Clock-wise from top-left): a) 9923 bottle caps and 997 disposable cigarette lighters b) 1,268 shoes and slippers c) 3,576 beverage 
        bottles d) 74 hag-fish cones and 811 oyster spacer tubes were collected in a 28-day mission at Midway Atoll in 2015.
(Clock-wise from top-left): a) 9923 bottle caps and 997 disposable cigarette lighters b) 1,268 shoes and slippers c) 3,576 beverage bottles d) 74 hag-fish cones and 811 oyster spacer tubes were collected in a 28-day mission at Midway Atoll in 2015.