Marine debris from the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" washes up daily on Hawai'i's shorelines. The “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”, also called the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, is an accumulation zone in the Pacific Ocean of marine debris covering an area twice the size of the United States of America. Currents and on-shore wind and waves bring marine debris to the Hawaiian Island chain where it is mostly found washed up on the windward (eastern) sides of the islands. Marine debris is found on the main Hawaiian islands - O`ahu, Hawai`i, Lana`i, Kaua`i, Moloka`i, Kaho`olawe, Ni`ihau and Maui as well as the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
Most marine debris found in Hawai`i is made of plastic. Plastic does not biodegrade, plastic lasts forever. Although it does photodegrade over time, this is a process that creates smaller and smaller particles of plastic creating microscopic particles.
Marine debris causes much more than an eyesore, it impacts marine life through habitat destruction, ingestion and entanglement.
Algalita Marine Research Foundation found that 35% of Lantern fish sampled from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch had ingested pieces of plastic. Lantern fish are the most common fish
in the open ocean and are consumed by larger fish such as tuna which are then eaten by humans and other animals at the top of the food chain.
Zooplankton has been shown to ingest microplastic particles indicating that the whole food chain is affected by ingestion of plastic.
Marine debris such as nets, rope, strapping bands, eel cones and other objects are an entanglement hazard to marine life in the water and on beaches. Entanglement in marine debris can cause death to whales, dolphins, monk seals, sea turtles and sea birds if they are entangled underwater and unable to surface to breathe. Monk seals and sea turtles can become entangled when they come ashore. Marine debris also harms animals from cuts and wounds from marine debris. Monofilament line can sever off flippers and wings.
Marine debris is often fouled with barnacles or algae from being in the ocean for many years. As fouled marine debris sinks it smothers coral reefs and blocks out sunlight. Marine debris also damages the reef when nets snag and pull on the reef causing breakage. Sometimes coral starts to grow on nets, crates, buoys and other items. When the item washes ashore, the coral dies.
Shoreline habitat for marine life is lost when marine debris accumulates on beaches. Sea turtles need to come ashore to rest and to nest. When beaches are covered in marine debris, this makes building a nest impossible. Endangered monk seals come ashore to rest, give birth and nurse their young.
What can do to help save marine life?
1. become aware of keeping the environment free of litter by always putting trash in the right place (garbage bin) and never leaving cigarette butts and other trash behind
2. reducing your use of plastic by bringing a reusable shopping bag, reusable produce bags, reusable utensil sets, reusable bowls and reusable bottles
3. picking up plastic and trash out of gutters, storm drains and other places so that it doesn't wash into the ocean
4. cutting open the holes of six-pack rings before disposing of them and cutting any other item that has holes that could entangle
5. never let go of balloons
Beach Environmental Awareness Campaign Hawai`i (B.E.A.C.H.) volunteers provide
educational presentations on marine debris for students K-12 and teachers. To contact B.E.A.C.H. about visiting your school, phone: (808) 393 2168.
Coral Photograph Credit to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce and Dr. James P. McVey. Dolphins, Japanese Angelfish, Green turtle, and Laysan Albatross photos by James Watt. Humpback whale photo by James Mobeley
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