A new ocean debris cleanup program has been under way on the windward side of Oahu and I hope it will soon spread throughout the islands.
With a name like the Hawaii Marine Bounty Program, you might at first think it sounds like someone is paying for the capture of marine life. But actually, it is quite the opposite - rewards are being given for the report and capture of man-made things that injure and kill marine life.
Lost or illegally discarded fishing gear such as gill and trawl nets and their attached ropes and lines have become a common hazard in the marine environment.
Last November, several federal and state organizations worked together in the French Frigate Shoals - a remote part of the Hawaiian Island chain and a prime habitat for the endangered Hawaiian monk seal - to recover some six tons of fishing gear in just one week.
The Hawaii Marine Bounty Program addresses the same problem, but closer to home, with a pilot project initiated under the Washington D.C.-based Center for Marine Conservation's Model Communities Program (MCP) and coordinated locally by the Sea Grant Program at the University of Hawaii.
With funding from the American Plastics Council, Coca-Cola and Royal Caribbean International, the MCP helps communities identify sources and solutions to common marine debris problems.
In addition to Hawaii's new program, the MCP has projects under way in New Jersey, Florida, Puerto Rico, Texas, Louisiana and California addressing such solid waste issues as litter in boardwalk communities, recreational boating pollution, and litter from urban storm drains.
The Hawaii pilot program was set up this summer to encourage boaters to report the position, by latitude and longitude, of any lost or discarded fishing gear they found. Once the debris was reported, volunteers directed by Randy Cates of Safety Boats of Hawaii would retrieve and weigh it.
The boaters' encouragement came from a "Points for Pounds" award system. Points were awarded in relation to the total weight of the recovered debris and the boaters could redeem their points for prizes supplied by local sponsors.
AS you might guess, the decision to report such pollution was easy for sailboat enthusiasts, snorkelers and SCUBA divers, to whom any floating debris is like graffiti across the water. But for fishermen, who often find the object of their quest lurking beneath such floats of netting, the decision, I am sure, was a little complicated by some mixed emotions.
Nevertheless, according to Chris Woolaway at the UH Sea Grant Program, the Marine Bounty Program began in June and by mid-August, 10 boaters had reported the location of derelict fishing gear. Such reports resulted in the removal of over 6,000 pounds of lost or illegally discarded gear in the Kaneohe Bay area.
My guess is that without the Points for Pounds awards, the results may have been less than desired, so those who supported the program should be applauded: Kaneohe Yacht Club, McCully Bicycle and Fishing Supply, Atlantic Submarines, Inc., Safety Boats Hawaii, Mike Nelson's Ocean Sports Productions, Izuo Bros. and H.O.S.T.
So, Woolaway tells me, there is a good chance the program will be expanded to other areas of Oahu. And for continued success, it will need more support from the business community. Why not give her a call at 956-2872 and tell her how you can help?
Ray Pendleton is a free-lance writer based in Honolulu.
His column runs Saturdays in the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.