Shedding Light on Hawaii’s Dark Secret

Picture the ‘postcard view’ of Hawaii – stretches of flawless white sand beaches, glowing sunsets and a never-ending horizon of smooth calm waters. No, it’s not just Photoshop magic. There really are picturesque scenes like these around the islands. However, what we don’t get to see or we don’t realize is that the “paradise” seen in these picture-perfect photos has a dark secret beneath the water’s surface.

The coral reef, a living underwater ecosystem, can be inadvertently covered with remnants of fishing line and fishing weights. Trash left behind on beaches, loose debris and litter on land that are carried by high winds can also end up in the ocean, causing a threat to many marine animals and the habitat in which they live. Fishing lines can potentially wrap around sea turtles, monk seals, manta rays, and other fish, while the fragile coral reef structure can be easily damaged or broken up by fishing line. Eventually, algae will grow on the line or debris that has settled on the reef and will suffocate the live coral polyps, leaving behind a lifeless coral head.

The negative impacts of this serious and sometimes forgotten issue was important for Maui Ocean Center’s curatorial team to minimize, especially because they’ve seen it firsthand through many hours of working in the ocean. For several years, MOC divers have devoted their free time to clean the reef off of McGregor point. The rocky coastline is a popular spot for fishing and because it’s located just west of Ma‘alaea (one of the windiest harbors in the world), a ton of debris winds up here.

MOC’s divers need only to venture within a 70 yard radius – and what they’ve collected in this small area over the years will amaze you.

Each cleanup produces about 50-70 pounds of trash including, but not limited to: fishing line, poles and hooks, hats, picture frames, horseshoes, aluminum and glass bottles, golf balls, fins, and plastics of all kind.

Here’s what a typical reef cleanup looks like:

Divers look for hooks and lines caught on the reef.

Some are embedded within the coral reef crevices and require tools to remove.

Using proper tools, MOC diver Harry disentangles the line and swims it towards a bucket or basket he has under water for collection.

Harry fills a “lift bag” with air from his oxygen tank to float the basket to the surface.

He swims alongside the basket, guiding it up to the boat

Other divers on the team help at the surface to pass the basket up to the boat.

Here are just some of the several containers holding hooks, line, and trash collected during one cleanup dive.

In 2013, MOC’s curatorial team removed over 700 pounds of trash, fishing line, weights, etc.

In 2014, 800 pounds were removed from this small area.

Looking forward to a bright future and healthy ocean, Maui Ocean Center’s curatorial team has made a goal to remove at least 1000 pounds of unwanted material from the reef in 2015!

With each and every reef cleanup, a little light is shed on Hawaii’s dark secret, keeping the pristine and beautiful Hawaii imagery a reality. Even if you’re not a diver, you too can help! Volunteer with Surfrider Foundation or Malama Maui Nui to pick up trash along shorelines or lead and organize a beach cleanup or dive yourself!

If you see a turtle with a hook or line around it, call 808-872-5190 (Ma‘alaea to Makena) or 808-893-3172 (rest of Maui).  If you see a marine mammal in distress please call 808-292-2372 (Maui Response Network) or 808-643-3567 (DLNR Maui Enforcement).*


*Maui Ocean Center is not legally authorized to take action regarding sea turtles or marine mammal entanglements, injuries, strandings, etc.

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