Stretching 1,200 miles northwest of the main Hawaiian Islands, a chain of remote islands and atolls known as the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are hundreds of miles from the nearest human populations. Yet, these beautiful coral reefs and uninhabited shorelines are centrally located in the North Pacific Gyre, where currents gather marine debris from all around the Pacific Ocean.
NOAA’s marine debris team travels from island to island by ship and small boat, carefully pulling derelict “ghost” fishing gear off of underwater reefs and collecting plastic debris from shorelines. They clean up nets and other debris that damage coral reefs and threaten wildlife, including endangered Hawaiian monk seals and green sea turtles. Hauling debris is often a dirty, exhausting, and sometimes fly-filled task, but the team loves its work.
We present to you their story, in photos:
The Great Maze of Pearl and Hermes Atoll
Surveys From Above
A Scar on the Reef
All Hands on Deck!
Threats to Wildlife
A Curious Pup
Lost at Sea
Laysan Island Flies
Even in paradise, hauling debris is hard work. Some of the beautiful shores of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are swarming with flies—they are especially notorious and pesky at Lisianski and Laysan Islands. With a backpack full of debris, Drew McWhirter (marine debris field technician) is surrounded by flies at Laysan Island (Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Steven Gnam).
What You Can Do
No matter where you live, we are all connected to the ocean. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands may be far from where you live, but you can still make a difference! The best way to stop the tide of marine debris is to prevent it from entering the oceans and Great Lakes in the first place. You (yes, you!) can do your part using these tips:
- Get Involved to help remove marine debris from beaches, rivers, and inland waters by organizing a cleanup or by participating in a cleanup event with a local organization. Can’t find a cleanup near you? Start your own and use the Marine Debris Tracker App to record what you find!
- Remember that our land and sea are connected. Whether you live inland or on the coast, we all depend on the ocean for the food we eat, the air we breathe, and more.
- Dispose of waste properly, no matter where you are. Even if you live inland, trash travels! Wind, rain, and storms can move litter, transporting it to your local waterway, and it can eventually end up in the ocean.
- Reduce the amount of waste you produce. By reducing your waste footprint, you can reduce the number of items that can end up in our oceans and Great Lakes.
- Reuse items when you can. Choose reusable alternatives like coffee mugs, bags, and utensils over disposable items.
- Recycle as much as possible! Bottles, cans, cell phones, ink cartridges, and many other items can be recycled. Items like fishing nets and line can also be recycled.
NOAA Fisheries marine debris project in the Pacific Islands region is supported by NOAA (Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, Pacific Islands Regional Office, Marine Debris Program, National Marine Sanctuaries, and the Damage Assessment Remediation and Restoration Program,) in partnership with the University of Hawaii's Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, the State of Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources, and the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.