Monday, September 24, 2001

Chad Yoshinaga, a National Marine Fisheries Service and
University of Hawaii biologist, pulls a net found on the
beach into a debris bin on Southeast Island at Pearl
and Hermes Atoll.

Delicate cleanup
task begins in
Hawaiian Islands

Tons of old nets are among
the debris that snags on the
reefs and kills marine life

By Diana Leone

Currents and winds converge on the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, making them a magnet for ocean-borne debris from throughout the Pacific.

Snagged on the coral reefs and atolls that make up the oldest portion of the Hawaiian Islands chain you can find old fishing nets by the ton, along with a variety of smaller debris that runs the gamut from glass ball floaters to old slippers, said Mary Donohue, chief scientist and marine debris coordinator for the National Marine Fisheries Service in Honolulu.

This sea trash is a threat to the thousands of turtles, sharks and birds that call the area home, not to mention the endangered Hawaiian monk seals.

Every year, workers removing masses of junk nets find dead animals in the netting, ones they did not get to in time.

Since 1996 the Coast Guard and fisheries service have united to clean up a total of 126,000 pounds of junk from the islands, Donohue said.

There is much more.

"Sometimes you can see it (debris) off in the distance, and it looks like a small island," Donohue said. "You get closer and find it's a gigantic net. You'll find a tangle of every net in the rainbow, rope, lobster pots, fishing gear, household waste. Sometimes they go down 60 feet. Sometimes you can walk around on them. Often it's easily as big as a small room."

This year's fall cleanup effort has more than doubled over years past, thanks to $3 million from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, parent agency for the fisheries service and the National Ocean Service.

Donohue said the money has come because of renewed interest by Congress in protecting U.S. coral reefs. The Northwest Hawaiian Islands contain 70 percent of the country's coral reefs.

Three charter vessels with professional divers will be on the job for three months, from September through November. In October the NOAA research vessel Townsend Cromwell and the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Kukui will join them.

Donohue said the work is done delicately, in order not to damage the coral the nets snag upon. "Our divers go through special training to work on coral reefs. They remove the nets pound by pound by hand."

"Coral is so precious, it can grow just a few centimeters a year," Donohue said.

Also new is the chance to recycle much of the netting. Until this year all the stuff went into landfill, Donohue said.

LeRoy Johnston, president of Plastics Grinding and Recycling of Hawaii, said he has secured overseas markets for 40,000 pounds of net debris. It will not make him a lot of money, but it will put the plastics to a good end use, he said.

In addition to the cleanup, scientists on the vessels will do research on the accumulation rate of nets, said Chris Woolaway of the University of Hawaii Sea Grant Extension Service. "There will be some great science being done, as well as the area being cleaned up."

E-mail to City Desk

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2001 Honolulu Star-Bulletin