NOAA debris2NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette crew loading collected debris into a storage container on the deck for transport back to Honolulu / Credit: NOAA

57 Tons Of Marine Debris Removed

Divers remove 57 tons of marine debris from Hawaiian islands within 33 days

A team of divers have just removed a whopping 57 tons of marine debris – and in the process, saved three sea turtles entangled in derelict nets – from Hawaii’s Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, a World Heritage Site and a marine conservation area encompassing 362,073 square kilometres. The massive clean up took the 17-strong team of US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) specialist divers over a month to complete.

Working from small boats launched from the NOAA ship Oscar Elton Sette, the divers surveyed Northern Hawaii’s coral reefs by swimming and tow-boarding, then removed marine debris.

'The amount of marine debris we find in this remote, untouched place is shocking,' said Mark Manuel, the mission’s chief scientist. 'Every day, we pulled up nets weighing hundreds of pounds from the corals. We filled the dumpster on the Sette to the top with nets, and then we filled the decks.'

At the Pearl and Hermes Atoll, divers found an 11.5-ton net, measuring 2 by 8.5 metres and extending 4.9 metres, which had to be cut into three pieces and hauled separately to the Sette. The net had already destroyed some of the coral and was an enormous entanglement threat. It was also in this area that divers freed three entangled sea turtles.

NOAA has been organising marine debris removal missions every year since 1996, eliminating 904 tons of marine debris to date.

Papahānaumokuākea, also known as the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, boasts over 7,000 marine species, including the endangered Hawaiian monk seal and 14 million sea birds. Kyle Koyanagi, Pacific Islands regional coordinator for NOAA’s Marine Debris Program, says: 'Hopefully we can find ways to prevent nets from entering this special place, but until then, removing them is the only way to keep them from harming this fragile ecosystem.'


In Numbers

  • 17 divers on the mission
  • 33 days of work
  • 57 tons of marine debris removed from the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawaii
  • 3 sea turtles rescued from tangled derelict nets at Pearl and Hermes Atoll
  • 11.5 tons: the weight of a single 'super net' the divers spent several days removing
  • 6.25 tons of plastic removed from the shorelines of Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge
  • Among the haul were 7,436 hard plastic fragments, 3,758 bottle caps, 1,469 plastic beverage bottles, 477 lighters
  • 904 tons of marine debris have been removed by NOAA divers since launching the initiative in 1996, including this year’s figures


Get Involved

Join the Ocean Conservancy volunteer network to get involved in the next coastal clean-up in your area. For more information visit


There is more litter on the UK’s beaches than ever, according to the latest UK Marine Conservation Society’s Beachwatch report. On average, 2,309 pieces of litter were removed from every kilometre covered at beach clean events. Join the Beachwatch initiative and organise a beach clean and survey in your area, or volunteer at a beach clean event. Go to to find one near you.




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