Influx of fishing nets, marine debris endanger Hawaii marine life

More fishing nets, other marine debris endangering whales and shorelines
Published: Mar. 17, 2018 at 12:47 AM HST|Updated: Mar. 17, 2018 at 8:58 AM HST
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LANAI (HAWAIINEWSNOW) - There's been an increasing influx of fishing nets on shorelines around the state. One of the latest to wash up is on the shoreline of Diamond Head beach.

It's not known exactly where it came from, but agencies are confronted with the task with removing nets like this one, which is about 25 feet long.

"We've found many nets at Waimanalo Beach, Kailua, Black Point, Diamond Head, and also in Ewa Beach and Waikiki," said Sarah-Jeanne Royer, a marine debris researcher with the International Pacific Research Center at the University of Hawaii.

It's not just one net. It's a tangled mess, a sign that it's been in the water for a while.

"It will encounter other nets of other colors, of other regions of the world's ocean, and then it will just entangle and become a bigger and bigger net," said Royer.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources has the task of removing these nets, often with the help of private groups like Sustainable Coastlines, which helped to get rid of a two-ton pile of netting and ropes at Black Point last month.

"We thought that was going to take one day. It actually took us four days," said Kahi Pacarro of Sustainable Coastlines. "It was like every time we pulled off what we thought was the last chunk, underneath it, there was even more."

It's unclear if these nets are coming from a two-mile-long debris trail that was spotted in January off the south coast of Oahu. Scientists have been trying to track some of that trash. Royer said one patch was tracked from Haleiwa to Kauai.

Pacarro is hoping the DLNR can haul the latest mess off Diamond Head Beach, and quickly.

"It's gonna wash out back into the ocean, end up getting tangled in something else like some coral, potentially a whale."

In fact the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says 13 whales have been entangled by nets so far this year. The latest one is a juvenile whale which was found entangled in nets near Lanai's north shore on Thursday.

The young whale was spotted dragging several buoys and lines in the water. Experts say that it was extremely emaciated and covered in sea lice. It was also being trailed by a pair of tiger sharks.

They say it likely won't survive.

Researchers encourage anyone who has seen an entangled whale to call the NOAA hotline at 888-256-9840.

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