Divers clear mountains of trash from Papahanaumokuakea

97,295 pounds of marine debris removed from the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.
97,295 pounds of marine debris removed from the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.(James Morioka/PMDP)
Published: Aug. 2, 2022 at 2:40 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 2, 2022 at 4:42 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Imagine detangling a fishing net that weighs as much as a small car.

Now imagine pulling that 2,000-pound net off a coral reef — all while holding your breath.

That’s exactly how a team of Hawaii-based free divers working in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument removed nearly 100,000 pounds of trash from reefs over the course of a 27-day trip.

The 16 trained free divers are a part of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine Debris Project, which works to protect the last 1,000 miles of the Hawaiian island chain. Their most recent trip focused on cleaning up Kamokuokamohoalii, Kamole and Kapou reefs within the Papahanaumokuakea system.

Kamokuokamohoalii — also known as Maro Reef — received particular attention.

The team collected more than 86,000 pounds of debris from Kamokuokamohoalii alone.

“That’s the equivalent of taking a walk through New York’s Central Park and a few surrounding blocks,” said PMDP President Kevin O’Brien, in a news release.

According to PMDP, Kamokuokamohoalii is one of the most diverse coral reefs in the islands.

The reef is shallow, which scientists say fosters a “vibrant ecosystem teeming with life.”

Unfortunately, it also attracts trash. Due to the reef’s shallow characteristics, marine debris easily catches the coral — specifically ghost nets, which are plastic fishing nets that can break living coral colonies.

Three boat loads of marine debris at Kamokuokamohoalii.
Three boat loads of marine debris at Kamokuokamohoalii.(James Morioka/PMDP)

“If PMDP isn’t cleaning it up, no one is,” said PMDP Executive Director James Morioka, in a news release.

The organization says they are partnering with waste and recycling management services to incinerate a majority of the found debris. They say the debris will eventually generate electricity for hundreds of Oahu homes.

PMDP’s next expedition is in September, where they have the goal of removing 100,000 pounds of debris.

For more information on the organization, click here.

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