HONOLULU — A team of divers hauled in nearly 165,000 pounds (75,000 kilograms) of abandoned fishing nets and plastic waste during a cleanup expedition at Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, federal officials said.
The 18 divers left Sept. 19 and returned Oct. 29 from a trek to the chain of isles and atolls located 1,200 miles (1,931 kilometers) northwest of the main Hawaiian islands, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which runs the expeditions.
The divers hauled in about 82 tons (74 metric tons), which is comparable to the weight of 45 mid-sized cars or one space shuttle, NOAA said.
The team of divers from NOAA Fisheries and University of Hawaii’s Joint Institute of Marine and Atmospheric Research sorted out the debris Friday.
The group split the debris into categories such as plastic laundry baskets, fishing nets, tires, buoys and smaller personal-care items such as plastic toothbrushes and combs.
Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument is uninhabited by humans. But due to its central location in the system of circulating currents called the North Pacific Gyre, the debris has been carried by currents to its shores for decades.
NOAA’s marine debris team has been going on expeditions to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands almost yearly to survey and remove litter since 1996. Cumulatively, including the last mission, teams have collected about 2 million pounds (0.91 million kilograms) of debris.
The litter does ecological damage at Papahanaumokuakea, said NOAA’s Kevin O’Brien, who served as chief scientist for the mission this year.
Plastic pieces, when broken down, are ingested by numerous species of sea birds, turtle and fish.
The team found two green sea turtles with fishing nets tangled around their necks and flippers and were able to free them at Pearl and Hermes Atoll, O’Brien said.
The fishing nets will be sent to Honolulu’s HPOWER waste-to-power plant through the Hawaii Nets to Energy Program, while some of the plastics will be repurposed and recycled for educational purposes, including an exhibit at Maui Ocean Center.