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NOAA ship collects marine debris in Pacific

NOAA said it has collected nearly 50 metric tons of marine debris, which threatens monk seals, sea turtles and other marine life in the coral reef ecosystem in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

The NOAA ship Oscar Elton Sette arrived back in its home port of Honolulu on Saturday after a month in Papah?naumoku?kea Marine National Monument.

The team of 17 scientists collected nearly 50 metric tons of discarded fishing gear. NOAA has conducted annual removal missions of marine debris in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands since 1996 as part of a coral restoration effort.

“What surprises us is that after many years of marine debris removal in Papah?naumoku?kea and more than 700 metric tons of debris later, we are still collecting a significant amount of derelict fishing gear from the shallow coral reefs and shorelines,” Kyle Koyanagi, marine debris operations manager at NOAA Fisheries’ Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center and chief scientist for the mission, said in the release. “The ship was at maximum capacity and we did not have any space for more debris.”

This year, marine debris was collected from waters and shorelines around the northernmost islands and atolls. About half of the debris was derelict fishing gear and plastics from Midway Atoll’s shallow coral reef environments.

As part of this year’s mission, the NOAA team looked for debris from the 2011 tsunami in Japan; however, no debris with an explicit connection to the tsunami was found. “While we did not find debris with an obvious connection to last year’s tsunami, this mission was a great opportunity to leverage activities that had already been planned and see what we might find,” Carey Morishige, Pacific Islands regional coordinator for NOAA’s Marine Debris Program, said in a statement. “It’s also an important reminder that marine debris is an everyday problem, especially here in the Pacific.”

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