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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 23, 2006

Project seeks out marine debris

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is flying the coastlines of the Big Island and Kaua'i through Tuesday to map marine debris so crews can later remove it.

The helicopter-mapping program is using trained personnel from NOAA's Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, who are photographing nets and other potentially hazardous gear and using satellite positioning equipment to establish exact locations. The project is funded by NOAA's Marine Debris Program.

Later, NOAA plans to join state and county organizations and others to develop cleanup programs for the material.

Conrad Lautenbacher, NOAA administrator and undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, told a press conference at Pier 38 that the program is part of the agency's commitment to the health of beaches and reefs.

"Marine debris is one of the most pervasive problems plaguing the world's oceans and coastal areas," he said.

While NOAA has for several years operated programs to get control of marine debris in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, the scope of the problem in the main islands is not well understood, said Seema Balwani, NOAA marine debris project supervisor.

"Little is known about the abundance or impacts of derelict fishing gear on the nearshore ecosystems of the main Hawaiian islands," she said. "The time has come for us to increase the scope of our marine debris project and focus efforts on our local shorelines and reefs."

U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawai'i, said in a statement that he hopes researchers will get help in addressing the problem through the Marine Debris Research and Reduction Act, which passed the Senate last year and could become law this year.

"This bill is intended to address the pervasive problem of marine debris, which is a major cause of death to marine mammals, birds, and other marine life and also threatens navigation safety and degrades important aquatic habitats, such as coral reefs and seagrass beds," Inouye said.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com.