Maui News

53 tons of marine debris removed from Papahānaumokuākea

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“Marine debris technicians from PMDP work to remove a large conglomerate of derelict fishing gear (ghost net) from the shoreline at Kapou (Lisianski Island).” Photo – Andrew Sullivan-Haskins
  • “At Hōlanikū (Kure Atoll), marine debris technicians from PMDP begin the process of retrieving a large ghost net from the water after it has been cut free from the reef by specially trained divers.” Photo – Andrew Sullivan-Haskins
  • “Marine debris technician Max Lee carries a load of derelict fishing gear collected from a remote beach at Kuaihelani (Midway Atoll).” Photo – Andrew Sullivan-Haskins
  • “PMDP’s Lead diver and small boat operator Derek Levault returns for the day with a full load of ghost net that was collected from the remote reefs of Manawai (Pearl and Hermes Reef) by one of PMDP’s specially trained free-diving teams.” Photo – Andrew Sullivan-Haskins
  • “A honu (Hawaiian green sea turtle) and a juvenile ‘ā (masked booby) rest atop a buoyant ghost net at Manawai (Pearl and Hermes Reef). Unless removed, ghost nets like this one remain a serious threat to entangle the wildlife they attract.” Photo – Andrew Sullivan-Haskins
  • “After being cut free from the reef, large ghost nets like the one pictured here are recovered by specially trained marine debris technicians from PMDP. Teams use a combination of lines, specialty knots and teamwork to haul these large nets into their boats.” Photo – James Morioka
  • “At Kapou (Lisianski Island), the PMDP team works to haul a large ghost net into one of their specially built marine debris boats.” Photo – Andrew Sullivan-Haskins

A team from the Papahānaumokuākea Marine Debris Project, a Hawaiʻi-based nonprofit organization, returned to Honolulu recently aboard the 185-ft ship M/V Imua with another 53 tons (105,655 pounds) of marine debris removed from reefs and beaches of the islands and atolls within the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.  

The debris removal included:

  • 64,000 pounds of  ghost net removed from the reefs 
  • 32,530 pounds of ghost net removed from the shorelines 
  • 9,125 pounds of ocean plastic debris removed from the shorelines

Using their team of highly-skilled freedivers, PMDP conducted cleanups at Kapou (Lisianski Island), Manawai (Pearl and Hermes Atoll), Kuaihelani (Midway Atoll) and Hōlanikū (Kure Atoll), focusing on cutting ghost nets from the coral reefs.


The team successfully cleaned and restored over 1,600 acres of shallow (less than 30 foot depth) coral reefs, greater than three times the size of Diamondhead Crater, while also saving two Hawaiian green sea turtles entangled in ghost nets.

“A specially trained diver from PMDP cuts a large ghost net free from a remote reef at Hōlanikū (Kure Atoll).” Photo – James Morioka

The return of the 16-person team marks the completion of their second 30-day large-scale cleanup expedition to Papahānaumokuākea in 2022, bringing the year’s cumulative total of marine debris removed to 202,950 pounds, the equivalent weight of ten full-size school buses or greater than three humpback whales. This most recent haul also brings PMDP’s total to a half-million pounds since they began large scale cleanups two years ago. 

In addition to removal of ghost nets and ocean plastics, on this mission the team also tackled the salvage of a derelict vessel that had been beached at Manawai (Pearl and Hermes Atoll) for over a year.  The vessel, a lifeboat from the 650-ft car-carrier ship Sincerity Ace, was cast adrift in the vicinity of Papahānaumokuākea after a disastrous onboard fire resulted in the ship being abandoned on the high seas in January 2019. 


The lifeboat had been aground on one of Manawai’s most pristine islets since at least June 2021, and posed an entrapment threat to seabirds as well as a contamination threat from the diesel fuel, batteries and engine fluids that were aboard. The PMDP team, using sand anchors and pulleys, was able to winch the boat higher onto the beach where they repaired large gashes in the fiberglass hull before winching it back into the water and towing it 5 miles offshore to the waiting M/V Imua. 

An estimated 57 tons of marine debris accumulates on the reefs of Papahānaumokuakea each year. 2022 marked year one of PMDP’s strategic 5-year plan to “catch up” with backlogged accumulation and “keep up” with new annual influx. Through intensive removal, this ambitious goal aims to reduce the impacts of marine debris to their lowest practicable levels, giving the wildlife of PMNM the best long-term chance of survival. 

PMDP would like to extend a huge thank you to our major funding partners for making this work possible: 


The mission was supported by Marc and Lynne Benioff, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, NOAA Marine Debris Program, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the McPike-Zima Foundation, and numerous community donors. NOAA support includes funding from the 2022 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

“PMDP team lead Namele Naipo-Arsiga and marine debris technician Charlotte Frank look on as a large load of ghost net is craned out of their small boat and onto the mothership where it will be weighed and safely secured for return to Honolulu.” Photo – Andrew Sullivan-Haskins

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