Greenpeace research ship to stop in isles
The environmental group plans to study an ocean area where garbage accumulates
On a more than year-long journey through the world's oceans, Greenpeace's research ship the Esperanza plans a stopover in Honolulu as part of its quest to track ocean threats ranging from pirate fishing operations to mounds of marine trash.
The 220-foot-long boat is scheduled to arrive in Hawaii in late October after a tour through other islands in the western Pacific Ocean, including the Federated States of Micronesia.
The ship began its trip in November from Cape Town, South Africa. So far, its exploits have included documenting illegal fishing operations off the coast of West Africa and the effects of tourism on the Red Sea.
Steve Smith, spokesman for the Washington-based environmental group, said the hope is "to leave this 16-month expedition with a really good sense of the really different crises that our oceans are facing."
The group plans to spend about a week in the islands, providing public tours of its ship and conducting research in an ocean area north of Oahu, known as a gyre, where winds and ocean currents gather garbage from throughout the region.
While the waters surrounding mostly uninhabited isles and atolls of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands were declared a national monument by President Bush last month, marine debris still threatens the wildlife there, he said.
"We're really trying to highlight that ocean protections begin on land," Smith said.
The debris includes a wide array of nonbiodegradable items such as heavy plastic nets, ropes, bottles, shoe soles and assorted fishing gear. The trash is blamed for trapping and killing marine creatures. Birds and fish also mistake the bits of plastic for food, sometimes dying with bellies filled with indigestible piles of the castaway trash.
Smith said Greenpeace hopes to provide a clearer idea of what the gyre contains and issue a report with recommendations for both governments and individuals on how to better control the oceans' garbage problem.
For the past decade, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been gathering up marine debris from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, initially as a measure to protect the endangered Hawaiian monk seal from getting entangled in the trash, said Wendy Goo, a spokeswoman for the agency.
Between 1996 and 2005, cooperative efforts have collected about 542 tons of debris from among the remote string of islands stretching across about 1,400 miles, according to the agency.
But the problem is not limited to waters surrounding those remote islands.
In June, NOAA collected nearly 17 tons of abandoned fishing nets from Oahu alone, said Oliver Dameron, a marine ecosystem specialist managing the cleanup of the main islands.
NOAA has not made many trips up to the trash-filled zone of the ocean more than 1,000 miles north of the main islands, in part because the gyre shifts its location throughout the year, he said.
Over the last five years, researchers have been working on predicting the location of the zone based on satellite data.
"Until ... we can certifiably predict where this stuff is going to be in large piles, it's not really worth making missions up there to go get it, because the ocean is extremely large," Dameron said.
In August, NOAA will begin a month-long annual cleanup mission to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and continue its study of how much waste is entering the ecosystem there.