Sustainability Environment

More than 90K pounds of marine debris removed from Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

The ghost nets and other plastics were removed over a 27-day-period.
Fishing net stuck on a coral reef

Story at a glance


  • A team of divers from a Hawaii-based nonprofit worked for a month to remove thousands of pounds of ghost nets and plastics off coral reefs and beaches of Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.  

  • In total, the 16-person team of free divers removed 97,295 pounds of nets and plastics. 

  • Ghost nets are discarded, abandoned or lost fishing nets that get tangled over coral reefs posing a threat to multiple species of sea life. 

Close to 100,000 pounds of ghost nets and plastics were found on reefs and beaches on Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.  

A team of 16 free divers with the nonprofit Papahānaumokuākea Marine Debris Project collected 97,295 pounds of debris during a 27-day expedition.  

Team members lugged the waste back to the state capital of Honolulu aboard a 185-foot-long ship M/V Imua.   


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When divers found a net, they would cut the mesh free from the reef to avoid further damage and haul it to a 19-foot Zodiac inflatable boat to bring back to the mothership. Net sizes varied but typically weighed in at around 2,000 pounds each, according to a statement.  

“I’ve fallen in love with Papahānaumokuākea. There is no other place like it. And it’s quite simple, when you love a place and it has woven itself into your heart, your body lunges to the work calling to be done,” said Namele Naipo-Arsiga, PMDP team leader. 

Ghost nets are large, tangled masses of fishing nets that have been abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded in the ocean. They commonly get wrapped around shallow coral reefs, killing the coral, or entangle sea life like fish, turtles, sharks and dolphins.  

During the expedition, the team discovered a single trawl net sprawled across 200 feet of the reef Kamokuokamohoaliʻi. The nets collected at Kamokuokamohoali’l reef accounted for 86,000 pounds of the total nets and plastics gathered during the month-long cleanup.  

Another 11,000 pounds of nets and plastics were removed from the shorelines of two other islands, Laysan Island and Lisianki Island.  

“An estimated 115,000 lbs of marine debris accumulates on the reefs of Papahānaumokuākea each year, and if PMDP isnʻt cleaning it up, no one is,” PMDP Executive Director James Morioka said in a statement.  

“PMDP’s next clean-up mission is in September, with the goal of removing another 100,000 lbs. Itʻs our goal at PMDP to continue regular clean-up efforts into the future to maintain coral reef health and protect countless animals from entanglement and potential injury or death.” 


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