Friday, November 19, 2004

Divers of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration removed thousands of pounds of debris yesterday that had been entangled among the coral substrate in Kaneohe Bay.

Adrift in nets

A multi-agency team undertakes
the largest one-day removal
of marine debris in Hawaii

Divers removed more than 10,000 pounds of tangled fishing nets and ropes from a reef in Kaneohe Bay yesterday that was endangering living coral, green sea turtles and boaters.

The huge mass was the largest amount of marine debris ever removed from a Hawaiian island in one day, said specialists for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The work yesterday in Kaneohe Bay marked the first time the NOAA divers, who have removed hundreds of tons of debris from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, had tackled debris in the main Hawaiian islands. Divers estimated an additional 2,000 to 3,000 pounds will be removed today.

At noon yesterday, about halfway through the job, state coral reef specialist Dave Gulko was all smiles at Heeia Kea Pier.

Gulko explained he was happy because getting the nets and ropes out of the bay means:

» The debris can no longer damage coral.
» Alien seaweed cannot use the nets to access and smother coral heads.
» Sea turtles will not get stuck in it.
» It will not be a navigational and recreational hazard to boaters and swimmers.
» Pieces will not break off and act as dangerous "ghost nets" in the bay.

The debris had been reported a few weeks ago, snagged on a patch reef near the sandbar where boaters often anchor on weekends. Officials said the debris had likely accumulated from various sources, carried into the bay by ocean currents.

But when marine conservation specialists from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources checked it out, it looked like it might have been there for months, Gulko said.

"The front part of the reef was bulldozed," he said, from the pounding action of the net bundle as the waves moved it back and forth.

Live finger and rice coral was destroyed, Gulko said. And at least one sea turtle had been snagged in the nets and freed by a passer-by.

"These nets were really high priority -- to get them out," said Jennifer Stephenson, assistant leader of the 11-person NOAA dive team.

This load of marine debris collected yesterday from the coral substrate in Kaneohe Bay weighed about 1,420 pounds.

Yesterday, the wet-suit-clad divers used muscle power to heave sections of the debris out of the bay and into 15-foot inflatable boats for transport to shore.

Ultimately the debris will be burned at the city's HPOWER plant.

The project was a cooperative effort among the DLNR, NOAA and the University of Hawaii Institute for Marine Biology. Unitek Solvent Services donated the use of a sealable trash bin so the nets could be disposed of without the risk of the invasive seaweed escaping the bin and polluting another water source.

The Kaneohe Bay cleanup had to be done carefully because growing among the healthy coral that was destroyed there is the invasive algae species Kappaphycus, commonly known as smothering seaweed, Gulko said.

Smothering seaweed has been killing coral in Kaneohe Bay since it was discovered there in the 1970s, after being brought here from its native Philippines for a failed aquaculture experiment.

Kappaphycus has not spread beyond Kaneohe Bay, Gulko said. Special cleaning of the boats, diving gear and trash container used in yesterday's cleanup should ensure it stays that way, he said.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration


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