Coast Guard buoy tender crew collects 32 tons of marine debris from Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

HONOLULU — While many Americans enjoyed their 4th of July holiday with picnics and parties, the crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Walnut and some federal government partners continued an effort to clean up the ocean and reefs of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

The Walnut’s crew returned Sunday night from a three-week multi-agency debris removal effort in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

The crew of the Walnut, a 225-foot buoy tender home ported in Honolulu, partnered with NOAA and the U.S. Army’s 7th Engineer Dive Team to remove more than 32 tons of derelict fishing nets and other refuse from the coral reefs in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

“It was a busy 4th of July for Walnut’s crew but it’s great that we can come to such a historic place and help make a difference by removing the marine debris collected by refuge personnel and help out by removing nets from the nearby islands,” said Cmdr. Jeffrey Randall, commanding officer of the Walnut.

The Walnut’s crew departed June 21, for a 2,900-mile multi-mission trip to Maro Reef, Kure and Midway Atoll. One of the crew’s goals was to remove as much marine debris as possible from the waters surrounding the monument using the ship’s crane, lift bags and divers.

“Protecting our natural resources is one of the Coast Guard’s many missions,” said Eric Roberts, the marine protected species program manager for the 14th Coast Guard District, headquartered in Honolulu.

“America’s marine waters and their ecosystems are vital to the health, well-being and economy of the nation. For this reason, the Coast Guard’s role in carrying out the nation’s mandates to protect our marine environment is of vital importance.”

Lt. Tony Perry of the NOAA Corps was aboard the Walnut during the “marine debris recovery patrol” and estimates that 52 metric tons of debris enters the monument each year.

“Recovery efforts like this patrol help remove this accumulated debris and protect the coral reefs and endangered species found within the monument,” Perry said.

On Monday, July 13, the cutter crew will offload the debris in Honolulu Harbor and transfer it to containers on the pier, which will then be picked up by Schnitzer Steel Corporation, which will shred the debris. The trash will then be converted into energy by the Hawaiian Electric Company at its co-generation plant.

NOAA’s Pacific Island Fisheries Science Center’s (PIFSC) Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) provided technical support using geographical information systems to survey, locate and provide expertise on removing marine debris. The NOAA representatives created daily survey plans, recommended navigation to the specified reefs and directed Coast Guard divers in debris surveys and data collection procedures.

In addition to the Walnut’s marine debris recovery efforts, the cutter was engaged in a two-week law enforcement patrol of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. A Coast Guard C-130 air crew recently documented a vessel suspected of illegally fishing within a special preservation area of the monument. (See the story and photos at uscghawaii.com.)

“Papahanaumokuakea is considered a sacred place and protecting it is very important to both the Coast Guard and the people of Hawaii,” said Roberts. “Our patrol efforts are making a difference, and we will continue to provide a persistent presence throughout the region.”

The monument was established three years ago and it is the world’s largest fully protected marine conservation area. NOAA co-manages the monument’s resources in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state of Hawaii.

More than 540 metric tons of debris has been removed from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands since 1996.

The Walnut’s crew also delivered supplies to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.

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