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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ocean debris action plan debuts

By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Environmentalist Jean-Michel Cousteau examines an 82-ton heap of ocean debris collected at Pearl and Hermes Atoll in 2003.

Advertiser library photo

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The nation's first comprehensive marine debris action plan was rolled out yesterday to guide a coordinated effort to remove plastics, abandoned fishing gear and other human sources of marine debris from coastal waters and coral reefs along the Hawaiian Islands chain.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Marine Debris Program and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency supported the two-year process that brought together government and nonprofit agencies, scientists, businesses and others to develop the long-term plan.

The process included a statewide planning workshop held in January 2008 to discuss marine debris activities and priorities in both the main and Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. From there, participants pledged to develop the Hawai'i Marine Debris Action Plan to encourage greater coordination among partners, identify potential funding sources and increase communication, said Carey Morishige, outreach coordinator with the NOAA Marine Debris Program.

A final workshop was held in October, and the finished plan was unveiled yesterday.

"There are so many entities across our state and across the islands that do marine debris projects, and a lot of the times we find ourselves re-inventing the wheel," Morishige said. "This pulled the partners together in a room to develop a mechanism to work collaboratively, to increase cooperation and sharing of information and resources.

"Hawai'i is the first state in the nation to do it."

The Hawaiian Archipelago acts as a giant comb, collecting large swaths of marine debris circulating on ocean currents in the Pacific. Whales, turtles, monk seals and seabirds can be killed, injured or made sick when they eat or become entangled in marine debris, which also can damage coral reefs.

In addition, marine debris can create navigation hazards and threaten public health and safety.

Morishige said many of the partners who helped develop the Hawai'i Marine Debris Plan already are involved in debris removal, research, education and prevention activities.

For example, at Papahänaumokuäkea Marine National Monument, tons of debris has been hauled from reefs and beaches, and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources' Boating and Ocean Recreation Division is working to remove abandoned and derelict boats, she said.

The new plan builds on these activities and establishes a cooperative framework for future projects across the state to reduce the presence of derelict nets and vessels; clear the accumulation of debris already affecting marine ecosystems; keep fishing gear and solid waste from being dumped at sea; and prevent land-based debris from reaching waterways.

"We've all been working to address marine debris in Hawai'i in our own way for years. It's great to have a plan that we can all contribute to and work together on to tackle marine debris in Hawai'i," Marvin Heskett of the Surfrider Foundation's O'ahu chapter said in a news release.

Morishige said there is no dedicated funding to achieve all the goals laid out in the plan, but one purpose of the project is to share information on funding opportunities and ways to stretch resources, such as sharing equipment and manpower.

NOAA and the EPA will continue to shepherd the action plan and convene meetings once or twice a year to assess progress, she said.