VIDEO: Spotlighting the Threat Marine Debris Poses to Wildlife in Papahānaumokuākea



UPDATE: A recent NOAA expedition observed reef destruction from Hurricane Walaka at French Frigate Shoals, and an invasive alga overgrowing native corals and other algae at Pearl and Hermes Atoll. 

To donate toward cleanup and restoration projects, click below:


The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation released a short film on the harmful effects of marine debris on our ocean and wildlife, centered on clean-up efforts in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawaii.


The film uses gorgeous underwater and seascape photography to convey the meaning of the ocean to Native Hawaiian culture. It documents a joint clean-up project of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its Marine Debris program, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) in Papahānaumokuākea. Since 1996, the team has removed more than 2 million pounds of marine debris, which continues to accumulate at an estimated rate of 52 metric tons per year in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Marine debris includes derelict fishing gear, non-biodegradable household waste, plastics and other debris.

The video was created by filmmaker Steven Gnam, who specializes in exploring and illuminating our connection to nature and whose work is a celebration of the wild. The film features music from Jack Johnson, the American singer-songwriter, actor, record producer, documentary filmmaker and former surfer. Johnson, who was born and raised on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii, and lives there now, is active in environmentalism and sustainability, often with a focus on the ocean.

The film was funded by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation in partnership with Sea Salts of Hawaii.


About the Clean-Up

From mid-September through October of 2018, a team of scientists led by NOAA carried out a 41-day expedition to Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument conducting in-water and shoreline marine debris survey and removal operations at French Frigate Shoals, Laysan Island, Lisianski Island, Pearl and Hermes Atoll, Midway Atoll, and Kure Atoll. All 164,906 lbs. of marine debris were transported back to Honolulu, Hawaii for appropriate recycling and disposal.


What is Marine Debris?

  • Marine debris is any human-made, solid material that enters waterways directly through littering or indirectly via rivers, streams and storm drains.
  • Marine debris can be simple items such as a discarded soda can, disposable lighter, toothbrush, or plastic bag that ends up in the ocean potentially harming marine life.
  • Nearly 80 percent of marine debris originates from land-based sources.
  • Lost or abandoned commercial and recreational fishing nets, lines, pots, and traps are another form of marine debris, categorized as derelict fishing gear.
  • These items, whether discarded intentionally or lost accidentally, may sit on the seafloor, get caught on rocky or coral reefs, or float on the ocean surface.
  • The majority of this lost gear does not decompose in seawater and can remain in the marine environment for many years.


Why is Marine Debris a Crisis for Our Ocean?

  • Marine debris can kill and injure marine wildlife through ingestion and entanglement, disperse invasive species, endanger human health, cause damage to shipping vessels, and hurt businesses and tourism by polluting our beaches and coastline.
  • As debris rolls across shoreline habitats and reefs, derelict fishing nets can entangle wildlife and damage corals. Derelict fishing gear is especially damaging to fragile coral reefs—some of the most biologically diverse and economically valuable ecosystems on earth. Derelict fishing nets wear down and break corals or can even grow into the reef structure, smothering living coral.
  • Derelict fishing gear also poses a serious choking and entanglement hazard to many threatened or endangered marine species and seabirds in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands—including the Hawaiian monk seal, green sea turtle, humpback whale, and Laysan albatross. If animals get entangled in nets or swallow plastic debris, they can suffocate, starve, or drown. Derelict fishing nets and gear can also constrict an entangled animal’s movement, can exhaust or injure the animal.
  • Plastic debris is especially threatening because of its ability to absorb and concentrate toxic pollutants.

To donate toward cleanup and restoration projects, click below:

What Can You Do to Stop Marine Debris?

  • Bring your own reusable cup for your morning coffee because disposable cups can end up as marine debris. Every year we throw away 25 billion styrofoam coffee cups. Many end up in our ocean where they kill nearly a million sea creatures.
  • Avoid products with excess packaging. Buy fresh and local. Buy from bulk bins and avoid packages with individually wrapped items. Reducing excess packaging and plastics reduces marine debris!
  • Avoid single-use plastic household items such as disposable lighters and plastic toothbrushes.
  • Invest in a reusable water bottle instead of using single-use plastic bottles.
  • Bring in your own reusable bag not only to the grocery store, but to all stores to reduce use of paper and plastic bags.
  • Say no to single-use plastic straws.
  • Keep our beaches clean! Take part in beach cleanups.

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is the largest marine protected area in the Northern Hemisphere and one of the largest in the world. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Papahānaumokuākea protects one of the last pristine ocean environments in the world, preserves Native Hawaiian traditions for future generations and safeguards the remains of those lost during World War II’s Battle of Midway. Its extensive coral reefs are home to thousands of marine species, some found nowhere else in the world. Monument residents include endangered Hawaiian monk seals, sea turtles, whales, dolphins, 14 million seabirds, sharks, billfish, tuna and four species of endemic land birds, including the Laysan duck. The destination’s role in maritime and cultural heritage is equally significant. With the highest density of sacred sites in the archipelago, it is closely tied to the Hawaiian peoples’ history. Within the boundaries are more than 60 known shipwreck sites spanning centuries as well as Midway Atoll, where the US forces irreparably damaged the Japanese fleet in the famous WWII battle.

The Foundation thanks Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii as a strong champion for our ocean fighting to preserve and restore Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.




The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, established in 2000, is the official non-profit partner of the National Marine Sanctuary System. The Foundation directly supports America’s national marine sanctuaries through our mission to protect species, conserve ecosystems and preserve America’s maritime heritage. We accomplish our mission through community stewardship and engagement programs, on-the-water conservation projects, public education and outreach programs, and scientific research and exploration. The Foundation fosters innovative projects that are solution-oriented, scalable and transferable, and develop strategic partnerships that promote the conservation and recovery of species and their habitats. Learn more at



Contact: Chip Weiskotten

Director of Strategic Communications

301.608.3040 x 305