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Monday, November 6, 2000

Press release
During last month's cleanup off the Northwestern Hawaiian
Islands, divers found one "drift-net island" so large, they could
stand on it, said Nina Young of the Center for
Marine Conservation.

Source of debris
in northwestern
reefs sought

Remnants of nets, plastic,
lines and other materials
choke reefs and sea life

By Leila Fujimori

Mike Stone and brother Mark are sifting through 25 tons of marine debris this week collected off the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands' reefs: remnants of fish nets, floaters, line, ropes and plastic.

The net manufacturer and fisherman are attempting to identify where the nets came from.

It's the first time the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service and the Center for Marine Conservation will try to find the source of such debris.

The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Kukui and the NOAA ship Townsend Cromwell were used in the search and retrieval of the debris from Oct. 12 until Nov. 1 on Pearl and Hermes Reefs, Kure Atoll, Lisianski and Midway Islands.

Mary Donohue, chief scientist on the research/cleanup cruise, said they are trying to reduce the number of abandoned nets.

Nets often entangle the endangered monk seal and sea turtle and choke coral reefs, she said.

"Islands of drift net are out on the reefs," said Nina Young, the Center for Marine Conservation's director of Marine Wildlife Conservation.

"One was so large, the divers could actually stand on it," she said. It weighed 1,000 pounds and was found on Pearl and Hermes Reef.

U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Marc Stegman, the ship's captain, said an enormous ball of net found on the beach in that area took an entire day to cut apart and haul by small boat to the Coast Guard ship.

NOAA's ship captain, Lt. Cmdr. Chris Beaverson, said his ship first surveyed the reef. Snorkelers towed behind inflatable boats placed markers where debris was spotted.

Another crew followed behind them to cut away and haul the material to the Coast Guard cutter.

The program, now in its third year, has already seen a measure of success.

"Over the last two years, monk seal entanglement in marine debris -- in many cases lethal -- has declined to just five so far this year, down by 20 from last year," said George Antonelis, chief of Honolulu Laboratory's Protected Species Investigation.

Only 1,300 to 1,400 monk seals remain. They are found only in Hawaii in U.S. waters, he said.

The participating partners include NOAA Corps Operations, 14th U.S. Coast Guard District, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, University of Hawaii, UH Sea Grant, State of Hawaii, City and County of Honolulu, Center for Marine Conservation, Horizon Waste Services of Hawaii, Ocean Futures and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

In the past five years, 63 tons of debris have been retrieved at a cost of well over $1 million per trip, estimated Donohue.

Hawaii residents who want to get involved in cleanup programs can call 527-5091, the city's environmental concern line, for information.

E-mail to City Desk

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