100,000 Pounds of Trash Cleaned Up From Remote Marine Sanctuary
Despite being thousands of miles away from civilization, our trash has continued to make its way to the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Pacific at an alarming rate.
Thanks to a multi-agency cleanup effort, this week it was announced that approximately 100,000 pounds of marine debris have been removed from Kure Atoll State Wildlife Sanctuary and Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial within the monument.
The debris was collected by staff and volunteers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the State of Hawaii and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from the reefs and beaches of Midway and Kure Atolls over the last six years and stored until it could be shipped to Honolulu.
What they cleaned up ranged in size and included quite a variety of items, ranging from lighters and toothbrushes to shoes, bottles and derelict fishing gear. The level and range of trash found highlights the risk to wildlife and how serious the problem is.
Once it reaches its destination, the fishing gear at least won’t end up in a landfill. Instead, it will be converted to electricity through Hawaii’s Nets-to-Energy program, which powers homes.
In all, it was enough to fill 12 shipping containers.
“With the high rate of marine debris accumulation in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, removing debris is imperative to ensure the health of this valuable habitat and the species that call it home. We are happy to have the opportunity to work with partners on this important initiative,” said Mark Manuel, NOAA Marine Debris Program Pacific Islands Regional Coordinator.
Midway atoll alone is home to millions of seabirds, including nearly 70 percent of the world’s Laysan albatross and almost 40 percent of Black-footed albatross, in addition to Short-tailed albatross and 20 other species of seabirds.
Sadly, small plastic pieces continue to pose a serious threat to birds who eat them and feed them to their young with deadly consequences, while they continue to face a major threat from being tangled in fishing gear and drowning, which is killing an estimated 100,000 albatross every year.
Fishing lines and nets also pose a serious danger to to coral reefs and marine species, including endangered monk seals and sea turtles, even if they’ve washed up on shore.
More troubling is that cleanup efforts were started in 1996, but waste just keeps accumulating there. According to NOAA, over the past 20 years the agency’s staff and partners have removed a total of 935 tons (1.9 million pounds) of plastics and fishing gear from shorelines and reefs within the monument.
“Marine debris are not something you can clean up just once; it takes a sustained effort over time,” said FWS Superintendent Matt Brown. “By working with the state of Hawaii, Office of Hawaiian Affairs and NOAA, we can accomplish more than any one agency on its own to clean up marine debris and educate the public to prevent it from entering the ecosystem.”
Hopefully the latest cleanup will help inspire more people to reduce our consumption of single-use plastic items and switch to reusable alternatives, and to push for more environmentally-friendly production and waste disposal practices or this vicious cycle is only going to continue.
To learn more about NOAA’s cleanup efforts and ways to help , check out its Marine Debris Program.
Photo credit: NOAA