Marine debris at Papahanaumokuakea
Over the past 14 years, some 740 tons of marine debris — we're talking fishing gear and nets — have been removed from the waters and shorelines of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, now officially known as Papahanaumokuakea.
None of it was dumped there.
Unfortunately, the reefs there become a natural comb for collecting marine debris from all around the Pacific Rim.
Besides damaging the coral reefs, these nets potentially entangle endangered species like the Hawaiian monk seal.
A sad portrait, but there is at least some effort to make use of the trash found in the middle of the ocean.
The Hawaii Nets to Energy Program takes the debris — collected every year by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Coast Guard crews — and converts it to energy.
First, the Schnitzer Steel Hawaii Corporation picks up the debris from the ships and trucks it to its scrap metal recycling facility at Campbell Industrial Park. Then nets, fishing line, and rope are cut into small pieces, which are then shipped to Honolulu's HPower energy-from-waste facility run by Covanta Energy.
Since the Hawaii Nets to Energy Program started in 2002, it's estimated that the debris has created enough electricity to power more than 600 homes on Oahu for a year. NOAA says these marine debris removal projects in Hawaii are possible through these public-private partnerships.
Still, what's alarming is that marine debris is one of the primary threats facing Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, along with invasive species and global climate change.
It's also critical that we explore how to reduce marine debris reaching Papahanaumokuakea.
Click on this NOAA link to learn what you can do to make a difference.
"Marine debris is just a symptom of how we manage our resources," said David Swatland, NOAA Deputy Superintendent for Papahanaumokuakea in a press release. "Until we change our behaviors, these issues will continue to threaten our ecosystems."
For more information on Papahanaumokuakea, designated as the first mixed UNESCO World Heritage Site in the U.S., visit www.papahanaumokuakea.gov.
The 5th International Marine Debris Conference, co-organized by NOAA and the United Nations Environment Programme, takes place in Honolulu from March 20 to 25. Visit www.5IMDC.org for more information.