Expert: Miles-long debris field spotted off Oahu just a 'small piece' of the problem

Published: Jan. 31, 2018 at 5:45 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 1, 2018 at 8:24 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Some 4,000 pounds of tangled fishing nets were removed from the ocean off Waikiki on Thursday morning, and state Department of Land and Natural Resources officers say there's a chance it may have come from a two-mile long debris field first spotted on Saturday in the Kaiwi Channel.

Experts say the trash was once likely part of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and probably contains debris from the tsunami that struck Japan in 2011.

Nicolai Maximenko is tracking the debris field. He believes the trash that was found floating is just the tip of the iceberg, saying there are likely several more of these rubbish fields nearby. While it's common for these patches to form, Maximenko says actually finding them is rare.

"I don't think there is only one two-mile patch. It's just a small piece of the full picture," said Maximenko. "In some sense, this is a very lucky case."

The fisherman who discovered the debris field said it consisted of tangled nets, ropes, buoys, crates and drums. A 40-foot wooden pole was also spotted, covered in plastic bags and other sea life.

An attempt Wednesday to locate the debris field was unsuccessful. Coast Guard officials believe it may have started to break apart.

"If the public or any recreational fishers or commercial fishers do identify large debris fields like this, please report it to NOAA or the Department of Land and Natural resources so we can put out messages to mariners for safe navigation," said Mark Manuel, who works for NOAA.

While the trash appears to be drifting away from land, the state says it's investigating whether or not some of the rubbish ended up on the western shore of Molokai. Maximenko says if it did, it's cause for concern – the debris is likely carrying invasive species.

"By the time it's on our shorelines, it's already unloaded this invasive species and in some senses it's already too late," said Maximenko.

Maximenko says those kind of clean-ups are very difficult and right now – Hawaii doesn't have the technology to remove vast debris fields from the water.

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