Nearly 50 tons of waste have been removed from the marine ecosystem in Hawaii. The final pieces of waste were collected last week when freedivers from Huawei-based nonprofit organization PapahÄ naumokuÄ kea Marine Debris Project completed their month-long mission. Among the debris that were brought onshore were 43 tons of “ghost nets” from a single coral reef.
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The Marine Debris Project (PMDP) mission targets the collection of debris from remote uninhabited islands far off the coast of Hawaii. The 43 tons of ghost nets were recovered from KamokuokamohoaliÊ (translates to “island of the shark god”) or Maro Reef. The island is part of a string of remote islands that serve as one of the largest marine ecosystem conservations in the world.
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The coral reef is located in a very shallow lagoon in the open ocean. It is only 10 feet below the water surface and more than 800 miles from Honolulu. The shallow reefs are key to the ocean ecosystem since they support a number of species, including monk seals, sea turtles, sharks, rays and thousands of other fish species only found in Hawaii. Besides the rich marine life species, the reef is also one of the most diverse in Hawaii, thanks to its 37 coral species.
The benefits of coral reefs are far more than just protecting marine life. While few people tend to appreciate their value, coral reefs are key in protecting islands and the mainland from heavy waves and storms. In the wake of climate change and extreme weather patterns, it is even more important to protect coral reefs.
While the world is struggling with excess carbon dioxide, coral reefs are a good storage point for excess carbon. The algae inside the reefs can hold huge amounts of carbon dioxide, which they turn into food and energy. However, if the corals die, the carbon is released back into the atmosphere.
The officials behind the exercise say that when plastic and nets catch on the corals, they can lead to the death of coral colonies, a situation that not only affects the marine ecosystem, but also affects human life. The nets are even more dangerous because they can strangle even some of the largest marine mammals. In one area, the divers found a single net covering over 20 feet of the coral reef.
Lead image via Pexels