Coast Guard removes 4 tons of debris from Kure Atoll in Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

HONOLULU — Crewmembers aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Kukui last week removed four tons of nets and debris from Kure Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

The Coast Guard routinely performs such debris recovery trips in the Pacific as part of the service’s continued commitment to marine environmental protection. Despite rough conditions — seas of eight feet and strong currents — Kukui crewmembers used two small boats to transport 36 loads, or four tons, from the atoll to the cutter over three days.

The net retrieval mission performed by Kukui crewmembers was in conjunction with work done by State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) officers for the past two years.

The debris had accumulated in that time.

According to Cynthia Vanderlip, manager of the State of Hawaii’s Kure Atoll Wildlife Sanctuary, DLNR and NMFS officers rescued seven Hawaiian monk seals, five black-footed albatross, and a tern from entanglement over that time frame alone. The Coast Guard’s removal of the nets and debris will help prevent such entanglements.

“The impact is devastating,” says Vanderlip the accumulation of nets and debris. “This is a serious problem that cannot be solved until the responsible parties are held accountable, but in the meantime, we’ll continue to do what we can.”

Nets and debris, such as those removed from Kure Atoll, pose serious threats to marine life and sensitive reef systems across the Pacific.

“The partnership between the Coast Guard, DLNR, and NMFS is critical to cleaning up the ocean and reef systems, which are the backbone of our ecosystem,” said Lt. Whitney Houck, the Kukui’s executive officer, or second in charge.

“Without the work of DLNR and NMFS in gathering nets and discarded plastics, and the Coast Guard’s ability to transport these materials off the atolls and islands of Papahanaumokuakea, the outlook for many reefs and marine mammals would be bleak.”

Kukui crewmembers transported DLNR personnel and Coast Guard engineers from Midway Atoll to continue an ongoing environmental assessment of Kure. The cutter’s crew also serviced 19 various aids to navigation — buoys, day boards and other signs — to help mariners in navigation.

The Kukui is a 225-foot juniper class buoy tender homeported in Honolulu. In addition to servicing aids to navigation throughout the main Hawaiian islands and western Pacific Ocean, the crew performs law enforcement, marine pollution response and search and rescue missions.

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