Wrapping Up Marine Debris Operations at Pearl and Hermes Atoll

October 19, 2018

The marine debris team cleans up 52,000 pounds of derelict fishing nets from miles of reef.

Aerial view of the sand berm at the north end of Pearl and Hermes Atoll.

We feel honored to work at Pearl and Hermes Atoll, or Holoikauaua, in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. We have seen it in many different lights, from sunrise to sunset, at still moments when the water surface was like glass, and times when the wind was blowing at 25 knots, kicking up white caps that made transiting in the small boats a bouncy ride. It's hard to put into words how special a place this is and the impact it can have on you. This is definitely a powerful place, full of unique wildlife.

Aerial panoramic view of Pearl and Hermes Atoll

Aerial panoramic view of Pearl and Hermes Atoll (Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Steven Gnam).

As we wrap up marine debris operations these last few days, we feel a sense of urgency. There's no way we can cover the entire atoll in the short 10 days that we've been here, to find every derelict fishing net, and we know there are nets unseen that we will have to leave behind. This is such a large atoll, and we've only been able to survey a small portion of the reef (2.22 km2). It's been sobering to see how much trash is floating around and how many nets get snagged on the reef, just in the areas that we surveyed.

A satellite image shows the "maze" of reef within Pearl and Hermes Atoll.

A satellite image shows the "maze" of reef within Pearl and Hermes Atoll. The area in pink indicates the area that the team was able to survey during the last 10 days.

One of the most visible, immediate effects of marine debris that we have seen is the impact on wildlife. Yesterday, we freed a turtle who swam into one of the derelict fishing nets, twisting it tighter and tighter around its neck. Cutting it free was an amazing moment, but it also makes you wonder how many turtles are trapped that we can't get to? We also saw a brown booby bird mistake a piece of fishing line for a fish, another sad reminder of the detrimental effects of marine debris.

A green sea turtle struggles to free itself from a derelict trawl/seine fishing net. Luckily, the diver in the background was able to cut it free

A green sea turtle struggles to free itself from a derelict trawl/seine fishing net. Luckily, the diver in the background was able to cut it free (Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Ari Halperin). 

A brown booby plucks a piece of floating net from the water and attempts to fly off with it

A brown booby plucks a piece of floating net from the water and attempts to fly off with it (Photo: NOAA Fisheries).

As we pull away from this massive, wild place with over 52,000 pounds of derelict fishing net, all we can do is hope that we can return soon enough to make more of an impact. In the meantime, we will educate as many people as we can about destructive impacts of marine debris.

Meet the Blogger

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Kaylyn McCoy is a Research Coordinator with the Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research and the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center. She received her B.S. in Zoology from North Carolina State University and her M.S. in Zoology at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. When she isn't counting fish in remote areas, she is usually on the water in Kaneohe Bay or climbing mountains.

 

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Follow the team as we travel to the islands and atolls of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands with photos and updates on our Story Map.

Partners

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 FoundationU.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.