Researchers Embark on Expedition to Survey and Remove Marine Debris in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

September 25, 2014
Marine debris personnel try to haul in this large conglomerate of derelict fishing gear from the shallow coral reefs of Midway 
        Atoll.
Marine debris personnel try to haul in this large conglomerate of derelict fishing gear from the shallow coral reefs of Midway Atoll.
A marine debris free diver carefully cuts a large mass of fishing net that was found at Pearl and Hermes Atoll.
A marine debris free diver carefully cuts a large mass of fishing net that was found at Pearl and Hermes Atoll.
Marine debris personnel remove a large net from the shoreline of Midway Atoll.
Marine debris personnel remove a large net from the shoreline of Midway Atoll.

Scientists from the Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) of the NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette today began a 33-day mission to survey and remove derelict fishing gear from remote coral reef habitats of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI). Derelict fishing gear and other marine debris are harmful to marine life, particularly to marine resources in the coral reef ecosystems of the NWHI.

The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument's diverse coral reef ecosystems are home to more than 7,000 unique marine species. In addition to support for a rich assemblage of corals, fishes, invertebrates, algae, and other reef inhabitants, the shallow-water reef environment of these ecosystems provides critical habitat for protected species, such as the green sea turtle and the Hawaiian monk seal, listed as threatened or endangered respectively under the Endangered Species Act, as well as various seabirds.

Derelict fishing gear consists of fishing nets or net fragments (from gill nets, trawl nets, etc.), fishing lines, rope, and other components of fishing gear discarded, lost, or abandoned at sea by the multinational fishing fleets of the Pacific. Swept along in the ocean currents, this type of debris accumulates on sensitive reefs and nearshore habitats of the NWHI. Derelict fishing gear can smother, abrade, and destroy coral reefs and their inhabitants and fatally entangle monk seals, turtles, and other marine life. It is also a potential vector for the introduction of non-endemic species and is hazardous to boat navigation.

Under the leadership of expedition Chief Scientist Mark Manuel, a crew of 17 scientists with specialized training in scuba diving will conduct in-water surveys and remove of marine debris at Maro Reef, Pearl and Hermes Atoll, and Midway Atoll. They will focus on areas known to have high densities of derelict fishing gear. Debris removal operations also will be conducted along the shorelines of French Frigate Shoals, Midway Atoll, Laysan Island, Lisianski Island, and Pearl and Hermes Atoll. Efforts to survey for debris on land at Midway Atoll will add to the debris accumulation study begun by CRED in 2012 and the national marine debris database maintained by the NOAA Marine Debris Program.

Removal of debris from the coral reefs and beaches at these islands and atolls will reduce the risk of entanglement for protected marine mammals, sea turtles, and other wildlife that use these habitats. Debris removed from the reefs and shorelines will be loaded onboard the Sette and transported to Honolulu, where it will be processed and converted into renewal energy.

In addition to the 17 CRED scientists, two partners from the NOAA Marine Debris Program will be onboard the Sette to oversee and document survey and removal efforts as well as to organize education, outreach, and media activities during the expedition.

For another mission objective, besides the marine debris survey and removal operations, the scientists will opportunistically retrieve oceanographic subsurface temperature recorders at Maro Reef. While the Sette is in transit between islands in the NWHI, the scientific crew will deploy a conductivity, temperature, and depth (CTD) instrument from the ship to measure variation in conductivity and temperature from the sea surface to ocean depths at designated permanent sampling stations. This CTD data will be added to a NOAA database of ocean measurements important for improved understanding of local and regional ocean dynamics and the effects of climate change.

 

Red markers (click to display location name) identify locations where expedition operations will be conducted within the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (shaded in grey).