Team back from cleaning Northwest Hawaiian Islands

Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey Randall
Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey Randall

By Stephen Florino - bio | email

HONOLULU (KHNL) - Protecting marine life and cleaning our ocean.

Those are the results of a mission just completed by scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric administration, and the U.S. Coast Guard.

The team clears tons of debris from the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. And all that trash will now be turned into something we can treasure.

The Coast Guard ship Walnut makes its way into Honolulu Harbor after a successful mission -- 18 days in the Papahanaumokuakea marine national monument, removing about 56,000 pounds -- or more than 28-tons -- of fishing nets and debris.

"You can look at it as a good thing that you remove that much because it removes a hazard to the monk seals, the sea turtles and other wildlife up there," said Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey Randall, commanding officer of the Walnut. "You can also look at it as a bad thing because that means there's a lot of debris floating around in the ocean."

Fortunately, scientists didn't find any marine life trapped in the nets. But they did get a first hand look at the damage.

"You can see the damage it causes to the coral itself," said Marie Ferguson, a scientist for NOAA. "It breaks off the coral, it kills the coral, it just creates a disruption in the community as a whole."

Now these problems will become solutions. Schnitzer Steel is taking all the nets and debris, shredding it, and taking it to H-power to be incinerated.

"So it's good and it's bad, but it helps us to find solutions in the future," said Randall.

The last time the team cleaned the reefs was back in 2005. They plan on going back to the same areas in the near future to maintain their efforts.

In all, more than 510 metric tons of debris have been removed from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands since 1996.