Marine Debris Removal in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands: A Look Back

Posted Thu, 06/23/2016 - 11:01

The NOAA Marine Debris Program 10 year anniversary identity marker.Over the years of the NOAA Marine Debris Program, there have been many efforts around the country to rid our waters and shores of marine debris. As part of our ten-year anniversary celebration, let’s take a look back at one of those efforts in our Pacific Islands region.


The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) are beautiful. Home to many amazing animals and clear, turquoise blue water, they are located far from large human populations. However, despite their distance from people, they are still inundated with marine debris that washes up from faraway places. To combat this debris and preserve this paradise, multiple NOAA offices have collaborated on a yearly removal mission to clean debris from the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and the shores of the NWHI since 1996. The NOAA Marine Debris Program has been involved in this effort since the establishment of our program—that’s ten years of some pretty impressive NWHI removal! How much, you ask? Take a look at the haul over the years:

A cleanup crew celebrates the collection of derelict nets in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
A cleanup crew celebrates the collection of derelict nets in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. (Photo Credit: NOAA)


  • 2006: 18.99 metric tons removed
  • 2007: 59.21 metric tons removed
  • 2008: 28.64 metric tons removed
  • 2009: 83.37 metric tons removed
  • 2011: 15.02 metric tons removed
  • 2012: 51.91 metric tons removed
  • 2013: 13.80 metric tons removed
  • 2014: 53.67 metric tons removed
  • 2015: 14.61 metric tons removed


These annual removal efforts vary in size and scope, generally alternating between large and small missions. The variation in metric tons removed each year does not reflect the amount of debris present on these islands, but the removal effort that was accomplished. This year’s mission was a smaller-scale effort, but still managed to remove 11 metric tons of debris, bringing the total amount of debris removed since the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s involvement to 350.22 metric tons!

For more on this year’s removal mission, check out the blog posts associated with its beginningmiddle, and end (including a guest blog by some of the removal team members!).

Since its authorization, the NOAA Marine Debris Program has been involved in a yearly effort with multiple NOAA offices to remove marine debris from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. (Photo Credit: NOAA)
The 2013 NWHI removal team with their haul. (Photo Credit: NOAA)
A snorkeler works to remove a large derelict net during a NWHI removal mission. (Photo Credit: NOAA)
Members of a NWHI removal mission haul derelict nets into a boat for removal. (Photo Credit: NOAA)
Although far from large human populations, the beautiful NWHI are still plagued with marine debris. (Photo Credit: NOAA)
Members of a NWHI removal team ride with a boat full of collected derelict nets. (Photo Credit: NOAA)
An albatross chick sits among marine debris on a beach in the NWHI. (Photo Credit: NOAA)
This year's removal mission team hauls derelict nets and other debris, accompanied by a pod of dolphins. (Photo Credit: NOAA)