50 Tons Of Garbage Pulled From Pacific Ocean

By Amir Khan on July 19, 2012 11:46 AM EDT

Ocean
Scientists on the Pacific Ocean reeled in quite a haul off the coast of Hawaii earlier this month, but their catch wasn't fish -- it was garbage. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Scientists on the Pacific Ocean reeled in quite a haul off the coast of Hawaii earlier this month, but their catch wasn't fish -- it was garbage.

Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, aboard the ship the Oscar Elton Sette, pulled up 50 metric tons, more than 110,000 pounds, of garbage out of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaii Islands last month as part of an ongoing effort to clean up the shallow reef.

"What surprises us is that after many years of marine debris removal in Papahanaumokuakea and more than 700 metric tons of debris later, we are still collecting a significant amount of derelict fishing gear from the shallow coral reefs and shorelines," Kyle Koyanagi, the chief scientist for the mission, said, according to LiveScience. "The ship was at maximum capacity and we did not have any space for more debris."

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The NOAA has been cleaning the area since 1996, and this month, researchers cleaned the coastal waters of Kure Atoll, Midway Atoll, Pearl Atoll, Hermes Atoll, Lisianski Island and Laysan Island, all in the northern section of the Hawaiian Islands.

Approximately half of the garbage was discarded fishing debris and plastic, the NOAA said.  Marine debris can wreak havoc on an ecosystem, trapping and killing fish, turtles and other marine life.

"[M]arine debris is an everyday problem, especially right here in the Pacific," Carey Morishige, the Pacific Islands regional coordinator for NOAA's Marine Debris Program said in a statement.

Hawaii will recycle the garbage and use it as fuel. Hawaii's Nets-to Energy program uses metal from the debris for combustion. The steam generated from the fire turns turbines to generate electricity.

Though researchers looked, they did not find any evidence of debris the 2011 tsunami that hit Japan. Debris from the tsunami hit the West Coast of America earlier this year, including an entire dock that was knocked loose.

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