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NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE Honolulu Laboratory 2570 Dole Street Honolulu, Hawaii 96822-2396


November 5, 2000


Consistency of partnership enables continued progress.

A successful Marine Reef Debris Cleanup partnership in a continuing effort, has picked up an additional 25 tons of debris from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands reef system according to the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service.

The ongoing partnership of multiple agencies, academia and conservation groups have collected more than 50 tons of debris from the reef system in the last three years.

In the latest effort, the NOAA ship Townsend Cromwell and the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Kukui conducted coral reef restoration research and clean up operations between October 9 and November 5, 2000. Members from various partnership organizations were on board the ships significantly contributing to cleanup operations at Pearl and Hermes Reef, Kure and Midway Atolls, and Lisianski Island.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Normal Y. Mineta hailed the operation. "This incredible cleanup effort by so many illustrates to all Americans the importance of protecting our nation’s oceans," he said. "I would like to thank all the folks who have been involved, and to take this opportunity to remind everyone that as Americans, we are all responsible for ocean conservation and protection. We can do it, if we all continue to work together."

Dr. Mary Donohue, Chief Scientist of the cleanup cruise, underscored the secretary’s remarks. "Over the past five years, roughly 10 percent of the Northwestern Hawaiian Island reef chain has had cleanup and restoration activity with more than 63 and a half tons of debris removed," she said. "With our partners, over the past three years 50 tons have been removed. I believe the numbers speak for themselves as to the seriousness of the situation and the extreme importance of our cleanup coalition."

The archipelago reefs act like a comb or straining filter as North Pacific Ocean circular currents deposit their refuse origination from hundreds and thousands of miles away. "This debris removal cruise is one part of the Townsend Cromwell’s ongoing efforts to support research in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. Other cruises throughout the year focus on trying to understand the oceanographic processes that may transport the debris from afar," said Lt. Commander Chris Beaverson, Captain of the Townsend Cromwell.

According to Dr. George Antonelis, Chief of the Honolulu Laboratory’s Protected Species Investigation, "The good news is that our committed partnership effort seems to paying dividends. Over the last two years, monk seal entanglement in marine debris – in many cases lethal – has declined to just five so far this year, down by 20 from last year. Clearly, cleanup of the debris is paramount not only to the survival of the entire reef’s ecosystem, but to the home of the endangered monk seal." Found only in Hawai‘i in U.S. waters, 1,300 to 1,400 seals remain. Antonelis noted that with such low population numbers, marine debris poses a serious threat.

November 1998 and 1999, results of the first and second clean up cruises brought up six and 25 tons respectively of miscellaneous debris, including whole and partial fish nets, marine lines, ropes, plastic, and assorted other material. Reefs are essential habitat for numerous marine life and critical to the overall archipelago marine ecosystem.

Revisiting cleaned sites from previous years provides a benchmark for debris accumulation rates. "Having identified ‘High Entanglement Risk Zones’ (for monk seals) at various sites that have been cleaned allows us to gauge the year-to-year and season-to-season changes in amounts of debris," said Donohue.

Large masses of nets weighing over 500 lbs. have destroyed coral by washing over shallow reefs. In 1997, for example, nearly 20 percent of the mass of marine debris removed in one case at the Pearl and Hermes Reef complex consisted of dead coral. In some areas, debris reached 62 net fragments per square kilometer.

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Kukui off loaded 25 tons of debris into 18 containers provided by Horizon Waste Services of Hawai’i, which transported them to the City and County Honolulu landfill. Other collaborating agencies and partners included the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Ocean Futures, and the Center for Marine Conservation.

As with every year’s cleanup, Antonelis strongly reiterated his thanks to all partners. "Again, all we can do is offer our sincere appreciation to these organizations for their outstanding support. Their enthusiasm and professional dedicated continue to make these cruises successful," he said. Antonelis further noted, "The cleanup coalition’s tremendous and successful track record holds up the partnership as a true model for cooperation, coordination and success. Vice President Al Gore’s Silver Hammer Award recognition of all our partners at the end of our first cleanup cruise in 1998 was just a forerunner of success to come."

For additional information: Mike Fergus/Delores Clark National Marine Fisheries Service Honolulu Laboratory 2570 Dole Street Honolulu, Hawaii 96822-2396 Phone: (888) 472-5680/(808)

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