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Marine debris research team fishes for clues in tons of ‘ghost nets’

Updated: May. 7, 2021 at 5:28 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - In an open-air structure called the “Net Shed” a team from Hawaii Pacific University’s Center for Marine Debris Research picks through a tangled mess of fishing nets.

They’re surrounded by mounds of twisted twine.

“It’s about five tons inside the ‘Net Shed’ and probably three tons outside, waiting for analysis,” said Jennifer Lynch, co-director of HPU’s marine debris program.

She’s heading up the effort to untangle the nets, cut and measure pieces, and look for clues.

“Lengths and widths and twine diameter, twin twists, knotted versus knot-less nets. You name it. We’re documenting what these pieces are,” she said.

The netting came from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. HPU partnered with Papahanaumokuakea Marine Debris Project to bring it back last month.

“We brought back just under 95,000 pounds of plastics in total. And of that 80,000 pounds were specifically ghost nets,” said Drew McWhirter, who’s working on the project for his master’s degree in HPU’s Marine Science Program.

Ghost nets are fishing nets fishermen lose or deliberately leave behind. A lab analysis will pinpoint the plastics they’re made of and could lead to the source.

“Here in Hawaii we care about this stuff that’s washing in and harming our coral reefs and entangling monk seals and sea turtles and sea birds,” Lynch said.

The Center for Marine Debris Research has received 21 tons worth of the nets.

“We need to know where this is coming from at the beginning in order to work from that point forward on solving this problem from the source,” McWhirter said.

The netting is dried and then weighed. What isn’t tested is recycled.

“We’re sending material out for multiple purposes,” Lynch said. “The bulk of it goes to the Nets to Energy Program at H-POWER.”

Follow CMDR’s progress on Instagram by clicking here.

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