Pacific Whale Foundation Workshop on Marine Debris Research

July 6, 2019, 12:55 PM HST · Updated July 6, 3:23 PM
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The 2019 Hawai‘i Marine Debris Action Plan Research Workshop takes place on July 25 and 26, with a presentation by Chief Scientist Jens Currie.

The event is hosted by the NOAA Marine Debris Program and the National Institute for Standards and Technology, and the Pacific Whale Foundation is an invited participant.

Pacific Whale Foundation’s research team began studying marine debris in 2013, monitoring, collecting and reporting marine debris found in the ocean and along Maui’s shoreline. They have also provided the science to support legislation that aims to reduce debris and, just this summer, started a RETHINK campaign to help individuals reduce their plastic waste to curb debris at the source. Organizers say this month “marks an important event that could help shape continued research into marine debris.”

The two-day workshop will bring together Hawai‘i-based researchers in the field of Marine Debris to determine the current state of scientific investigation, identify gaps in knowledge, and scope research resources in the state of Hawai‘i. Participants will also be able to update and reassess the priorities of the 2017 HI-MDAP Research Workshop.

Marine Debris such as microplastics threaten the longterm existence of marine life. PC: PWF.

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PWF leaders say “marine debris threatens coral reef and shoreline ecosystems, while also posing as an entanglement threat to marine life, including endangered Hawaiian monk seals, humpback whales, and the threatened green sea turtles. Additionally, marine debris destroys habitats, introduces non-native species and threatens navigation.” According to the PWF, the Hawaiian archipelago is prone to accumulating marine debris because of its central location in the North Pacific Gyre.

During the last workshop in 2017, Currie presented general findings based on PWF’s database of debris items, which organization leaders say is at almost 84,000 pieces. This year, he will present findings on a study conducted to determine whether the 2014 ban on cigarettes at Maui beaches and parks had any impact.

A PWF research team collected debris from select sites before and after the ban. Preliminary results show no significant reduction in cigarette butt litter accumulation, which remains the number one debris item found across all survey sites on Maui. PWF researchers suggest this may be due in part because there has been no enforcement of this new law, with zero citations given in the five years since the law went into effect. “If legislation is going to work, it must be enforced and possibly widened to tobacco producers and not just consumers,” PWF representatives said in a press release.

A dolphin has plastic debris wrapped around its upper and lower jaw. PC: PWF.

PWF did find however that pushing education and outreach at and near the beach, such as promotion on in-room hotel TVs, pamphlets in rooms and at check-in, and informational signs at the beach results in a reduction of 52 percent of general litter on the beach. These findings and others are being drafted into an upcoming publication that evaluates the effectiveness of policy on debris accumulation in Maui, which PWF will share when complete.

Currie said, “I look forward to attending so we can learn about what others are doing to study marine debris, continue to grow partnerships and collaborations, get feedback on our current research, and work with the marine debris community to determine the full scope of impacts and come up with feasible solutions that work, whether it be through policy, education, or some other means.”

To read more about Pacific Whale Foundation marine debris reduction efforts and how you can be involved, visit pacificwhale.org/conservation.

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