By Nina Wu
The new Northwestern Hawaiian Islands exhibit at Waikiki Aquarium is scheduled to open on Thursday, Aug. 18.
It's an opportunity to get a rare glimpse of the living reef ecosystem of one of the most isolated, still pristine places on Earth — one that most of us won't ever set foot on. Here, in 4,500 square miles of coral reefs, there are plenty of jacks, Hawaiian groupers and sharks in shallow waters, as well as highly sought-after aquarium species like the masked angelfish.
The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are also home to the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, threatened green sea turtle, and breeding grounds for Hawaii's seabirds. More than 99 percent of the world's Laysan albatrosses and 98 percent of the world's black-footed albatrosses return to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands each year to reproduce.
Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument enjoys protections by both federal and state governments (not sure how to pronounce Papahanaumokuakea? Click here). But make no mistake — these islands are not immune to the ravages of human destruction.
Two words sum it up: Marine Debris. 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 Papahanaumokuakea.
Even though few set foot on Papahanaumokuakea, all this debris ends up on the isles because the reefs are like a natural comb collecting it from all around the Pacific Rim. It could be that bottle cap tossed on to the beach, or the disposable plastic fork left behind after a picnic.
Check out this video by photographer Chris Jordan during his trip to Midway Atoll two years ago, sitting amidst a pile of trash, mostly plastic.
Whether a beachgoer, fisher or boat owner, everyone can do their part to prevent marine debris from getting into the ocean. Here are 10 things you can do to get involved, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). Other websites you can visit for more information on the atolls include www.hawaiianatolls.org and Kure Atoll Conservancy.
Hopefully when visitors see the new Northwestern Hawaiian Islands exhibit at the Waikiki Aquarium, they'll begin to care more about the litter they leave behind at the beach. From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., the aquarium will offer some family fun and keiki crafts. Color your own canvas tote bag, make your own masked angelfish hat or mask ,and visit educational booths by NOAA Marine Debris, the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology and Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.