A group of divers and removed nearly 100,000 pounds of discarded fishing nets and plastics from remote coral reefs in the Hawaiian Islands.
Divers from the Papahānaumokuākea Marine Debris Project (PMDP) went on a 27-day excursion to the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM), about 800 miles west of Honolulu.
A total of 16 divers removed roughly 6,400 pounds of ghost nets and debris per day for 15 days of operation.
The team of divers were free divers who use breath-holding techniques rather than scuba gear. The divers had to carefully cut each net underwater to avoid further damaging the coral.
A total of 86,105 pounds of nets were collected from one single coral reef – Kamokuokamohoaliʻi – which translates to ‘island of the shark god.’
‘That’s the equivalent of taking a walk through New York’s Central Park and a few surrounding blocks, and finding enough trash there to equal the weight of a commercial commuter airliner,’ said PMDP President Kevin O’Brien.
Kamokuokamohoali’i is about eight miles long and home to 37 species of coral.
‘The fact that we are seeing this kind of accumulation in such a single small area is really indicative of the scale of the global marine debris issue,’ said O’Brien. ‘Kamokuokamohoaliʻi is one of the most pristine and isolated places on the planet, and if it’s ending up here in these quantities, it means we’ve got a problem.’
‘Ghost nets’ are tangled masses of discarded plastic fishing nets. They smother coral colonies on the ocean floors.
Nets and plastics are also a serious threat to wildlife in the area, including nesting seabirds, green sea turtles and the Hawaiian monk seal.
The endangered monk seal, which breeds on desert islands in the PMNM, has a population of only 1,500 individuals and can easily get caught in ghost nets.
Some of the collected nets will be incinerated and turned into energy to power homes on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Others will be recycled in a program also run by the PMDP.
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