Marine debris is defined as any solid material disposed of or abandoned in the marine environment. It is a chronic problem for Hawaiʻi that can be introduced by ships, arrive as wash from rivers, streams, and storm drains, or reach Hawaiʻi’s shores from ocean currents. Depending on its origin, marine debris also has the potential to introduce invasive species. Examples vary greatly, but include plastic bags, bottles, rubber slippers, derelict fishing gear, equipment, and nets, and abandoned or derelict vessels. Causes maybe accidental, natural disaster, illegal dumping, or abandonment of vessels. Land activities that can end up in the ocean include littering, dumping, improper waste management, and industrial losses. Also included are stormwater runoff, materials washed down storm drains, or trash deposited during storms, high winds, or waves.
A special case of marine debris is the materials adrift in the ocean or washing ashore that originated in the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of March 2011. These are referred to as Japan Tsunami Marine Debris (JTMD).
Aquatic invasive species (AIS) may be introduced in other ways through shipping activity, typically arriving through biofouling (previously referred to as hull fouling) or ballast water, or through purposeful introduction such as dumping. The majority of non-indigenous aquatic species seen in Hawai‘i today arrived on vessels as biofouling or in their ballasts. Many of these species cause negative impacts to important ecosystems.
Aquatic invasive species pose significant threat to Hawaiʻi’s native plants, animals, ecosystems, economy as well as the human population. While most island ecosystems in the world are highly vulnerable, Hawaiʻi’s isolation makes its ecosystems even more vulnerable than others.
Hawaiʻi contains 40% of the threatened and endangered species in the U.S. But as a major transportation hub and tourist destination, the threat of invasion can never be completely eradicated and requires constant vigilance.
According to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), Hawai‘i has the highest per capita noncommercial fisheries catch in the nation at 1.4 million fishing trips for a total near 2.7 million fish in 2011. For commercial fishing, the port of Honolulu ranks among the top ten fishing ports in the nation with $83 million dollars of fish landed in Honolulu Harbor in 2011.
Benchmark - Where we are now
  • Hawaiʻi’s position in the North Pacific Gyre makes it a hotspot for the aggregation of marine debris. Large floating debris impacts marine life such as seabirds, Hawaiian monk seals, green sea turtles, and other species which ingest the debris or become entangled.
  • Concern over marine debris has received heightened attention recently as the world tracks JTMD. The Governor appointed Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) as the lead agency for JTMD, and they are preparing a response plan. The Department of Health (DOH) assesses and tests all JTMD for radiation.
  • The Hawai‘i Marine Debris Action Plan (HI-MDAP) (2013) preparation was facilitated by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and U.S. EPA with the active participation of the marine debris community, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, academic, and private interests.
  • DOH Compliance Assistance Office works with businesses to ensure compliance with DOH rules, regulations, and permits. This office held 24 workshops with businesses and other permit holders in 2012.
  • DOH Solid and Hazardous Waste Branch enforces illegal dumping in state waters and issues fines.
  • Fisheries – Both commercial and non-commercial fishing contribute to Hawaiʻi’s food security. Commercial fishing contributes directly to food security as well as to jobs in ways such as through fish auction, fish dealers, and grocers. Commercial fishers include bottomfish and pelagic fisheries, deepwater coral and coral reef fisheries, and crustacean fishing. Charter fishers are included in this category.
  • Recreational fishing is motivated by sport or pleasure. Fishermen often sell their catch through informal networks. Sport fishermen participate in several dozen fishing tournaments across the State of Hawai‘i annually. A 2006 University of Hawai‘i (UH) School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) report estimates the economic impact of direct fishing tournament spending at $6.2 million annually, with non-tournament expenses such as airfare and hotel accounting for an additional $5.1 million annually. Others fish for reasons beyond sport or pleasure, such as for subsistence, sustenance, and tradition. Some call this “ohana fishing.”

Target – Where we would like to be
  • Through implementation of strategic actions in the 2013 HI-MDAP, the State reduces and prevents the impacts of marine debris.
  • Through implementation of strategic actions in the Hawaiʻi Aquatic Invasive Species Plan (2003) there is reduction of existing invasive species and further introductions can be avoided or eliminated shortly after they are discovered.
  • A permanent statewide Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS)  Coordinator is hired.
  • Education and awareness are increased as a major management strategy to more effectively control and prevent degradation of the ocean and coastal resources.
  • Research and development of new, innovative technologies for exploring, using, or protecting marine and coastal resources exists.

Increase in number of community marine debris clean ups

Increase in number of community marine debris clean ups

Marine debris clean ups are continuously organized throughout the state of Hawaiʻi. For more information on marine debris and current programs to reduce coastal pollution, view DLNR's Marine Debris Webpage or NOAA's program, Multi-Island Marine Debris Removal in the State of Hawaiʻi. To get involved, contact DLNR, NOAA, or partnering non-profits such as Sustainable Coastlines, The Ocean Conservancy, and the Hawaiʻi Wildlife Fund.

Agencies: Department of Land and Natural Resources, Department of Health

Images: (Above) Getty Images, (Below) USFWSNOAA

Decrease in number of abandoned and derelict vessels

Per the DLNR Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation (DOBOR) Hawaiʻian Boating Law Basics Student Manual:

For the protection of our coral reefs, the shoreline and our waters, Hawai`i has very strict rules about abandoned, derelict and grounded vessels. All vessels grounded on State submerged lands, shorelines, or coral reefs shall be removed immediately by the owner or operator at the owner's or operator's expense. Vessels grounded on a sand beach, sandbar, or mudflat and not in imminent danger of breaking up shall be removed within seventy-two hours, unless otherwise agreed to by [DLNR-DOBOR].
Damage to State or private property caused by a grounded vessel shall be the sole responsibility of the vessel's owner or operator (Hawaiʻi Revised Statutes (HRS) §200-47.5) (2011). A vessel which has been left unattended for a continuous period of more than twenty-four hours may be deemed a derelict if the vessel has sunk or is immediate danger of sinking, is obstructing a waterway or is endangering life or property, and for various other reasons (HRS §200-48) (2009).
Cost to remove a vessel from Hawai`i’s waters may cost $25,000+ depending on the distance from shore, availability of resources, the hull composition, etc. the department strongly advises all vessel owners to protect their vessels and themselves by insuring their boats and making sure their policies cover removal and disposal of the hull.

Agency: Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation

Image: AP News

Number of enforcement actions taken by DOH Solid and Hazardous Waste Branch for illegal dumping in state waters

The Solid and Hazardous Waste Branch (SHWB), consists of many sections and programs, including the Office of Solid Waste Management. The Office of Solid Waste Management regulates landfills, incinerators, transfer stations, recycling, composting facilities, and illegal dumping. The graph below notes enforcement actions recorded on a yearly basis by the Environmental Health Management Report. The number of 'Complaints responded to' for 2013 were listed as 'numerous' and therefore could not be quantified in chart form. 
For more information, see the SHWB Webpage.

Within the DOH, enforcement actions are also taken by the Clean Water Branch (CWB). The graph below displays the number of enforcement actions taken for stormwater permit violations on each island from 2012-2016. Enforcement actions rise in 2014. This increase can be explained by the introduction of field citations, which allow for expedited settlements of enforcement actions and increase the CWB's ability to issue citations to those out of compliance.

For more information, explore the DOH Water Pollution Control Viewer (DOH WPC Viewer), an interactive map with records of stormwater permit enforcement actions taken across the Hawaiian Islands.

Image: WPC Viewer

Increase in number of educational workshops held by DOH Compliance Assistance Office for public 

There have been 318 workshops held since the beginning of 2012.

Agencies: Department of Land and Natural Resources, Department of Health

Image: Getty Images

Number of JTMD items tracked, assessed for contamination, and disposed of

Since Japan's devastating Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011, many debris items have found their way to the coastlines of Hawaiʻi.

For more information, view NOAA's Hawaiʻi Marine Debris Action Plan for a local perspective or NOAA's Honolulu Strategy, a proposed global framework for the reduction of marine debris.

In 2016, the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) released the report "Japanese Tsunami Marine Debris Aerial Imagery Analysis and GIS Support in the Main Hawaiian Islands". The report conducted a comprehensive assessment of the distribution and composition of marine debris throughout the main Hawaiian Islands.

Agency: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Images: (Above) Getty Images, (Right) NOAA

Graphs courtesy of the Hawaiʻi Coral Reef Initiative

Videos: 'Japan Tsunami Gift Fund', 'Kahoʻolawe Marine Debris Cleanup', DLNR

Japan Tsunami Gift Fund

Kahoʻolawe Marine Debris Cleanup

Title Image: Flickr