NOAA Removes ’18-Wheeler’s Worth’ of Debris from Mid-Pacific Waters [What’s New]

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A team of divers and oceanographers from the Coral Reef Ecosystem Division of NOAA's Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center recently removed 14 metric tons of debris from the near-shore environment around Midway Atoll. The tiny island, located 3,218 km from the Hawaiian mainland, played a pivotal role as a U.S. Navy base during World War II, and is now part of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

The collected debris--equal in weight to an 18-wheeler--consisted largely of derelict fishing gear and all sorts of plastic. The largest single piece of debris removed by the team was a seven-meter-long vessel swept away during the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

When the research ship M/V Casitas ran aground on the remote coral reefs of Pearl and Hermes Atoll in 2005, NOAA's Damage Assessment, Remediation, and Restoration Program (DARRP) and other trustees conducted a Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) to determine the extent of the injured resources. The NRDA process resulted in a $3.8 million legal settlement that provided funds for the trustees to remove massive amounts of marine debris from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands over several summers, starting in 2011.

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