Mission Accomplished: Cleaning Kuaihelani’s Shorelines

Posted Thu, 05/23/2024 - 22:23

This month, the Papahānaumokuākea Marine Debris Project completed their first mission of 2024 to the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (monument). This 19 day mission was focused on removing derelict fishing gear and consumer plastics from just the shorelines of Kuaihelani (Pihemanu, Midway Atoll). The team surpassed their original goal of 35,000 pounds and removed 70,080 pounds of marine debris. 

*It is important to use the ancient, contemporary, and common names of the islands to acknowledge the historical and cultural significance of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Learn more about the ancient and contemporary Hawaiian names here.

Person carrying buoys.
Papahānaumokuākea Marine Debris Project removed 70,080 pounds of marine debris from the beaches of Kuaihelani (Credit: Papahānaumokuākea Marine Debris Project).

The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument holds a unique status as the only mixed UNESCO World Heritage site in the United States. Spanning 582,578 square miles, it stands as one of the planet's largest fully protected marine conservation areas. Despite this protection, marine debris is carried by currents flowing throughout the Pacific and ends up in the monument, where it can destroy coral reef habitats and entangle or be ingested by animals. Removing marine debris on Kuaihelani and in the monument is crucial and plays a pivotal role in preserving the monument's natural environment and cultural significance. 

This important work is possible through the efforts of many organizations and people. The NOAA Marine Debris Program is proud to support this work through a 5-year grant to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation using $5.8M in funding provided by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. This funding to NFWF is being matched by Marc and Lynne Benioff for a total investment of $12M over FY22-FY26. Additional funding for this mission is being provided by the NOAA Damage Assessment, Remediation, and Restoration Program and the M/V Casitas Trustee Council.

Unlike their typical in-water removal missions, this first mission focused on only removing shoreline debris from Kuaihelani. The team far exceeded their goal of 35,000 pounds. In fact, Papahānaumokuākea Marine Debris Project removed 35,000 pounds within the first 8 days of work and more than doubled their goal weight for the mission. Kuaihelani has three small islets: Eastern, Sand, and Spit. Papahānaumokuākea Marine Debris Project removed debris from each of these islets, totaling 70,080 pounds - which can be broken down by type:

  • 35,100 pounds of derelict fishing gear

  • 32,930 pounds of plastic and other debris

  • 2,050 pounds of derelict vessels

A collage of three photos displaying the types of marine debris removed from the monument as well as the number of pounds for each.
A collective total of 70,080 pounds of plastic and other debris, derelict fishing gear, and derelict vessels was removed from Kuaihelani (Photos: Papahānaumokuākea Marine Debris Project). 

On the final day of the mission, Papahānaumokuākea Marine Debris Project used an uncrewed aerial system to survey the fringing reefs for additional debris to collect during additional marine debris removal missions later this year. They will return to the monument in August and September for two 30-day at-sea missions. 

You can read more about the the spring mission on this StoryMap. Follow along with us here on the Marine Debris Program Blog or on Papahānaumokuākea Marine Debris Project’s website and social media to see all the exciting updates!