Marine debris accumulation in the nearshore marine habitat of the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, Monachus schauinslandi 1999-2001

Raymond C Boland, Mary J Donohue
Marine Pollution Bulletin 2003, 46 (11): 1385-94
Large amounts of marine debris are present in shallow reefs adjacent to beach haulouts of the critically endangered Hawaiian monk seal, Monachus schauinslandi. These areas serve as seal pup nurseries, and injury and death caused by entanglement in marine debris are undermining population recovery efforts. We investigated the extent of this threat by measuring the accumulation of potentially entangling derelict fishing gear in nursery zones, 1999-2001. Plots of reef 1.0-1.3 km2 at three Northwestern Hawaiian Islands were initially cleaned of derelict fishing gear in 1999 then resurveyed in 2000 and 2001. Submerged debris densities across sites ranged from 16 to 165 debris items/km2. Resurveyed sites yielded annual marine debris accumulation rates from 0 to 141 debris items/km2. This large range was attributed to the physiography of reef areas surveyed. Trawl net webbing was significantly more common than other types of debris recovered and represented 84% of all debris encountered, suggesting that much of the debris originated from distant North Pacific Ocean fisheries. The likely source of most debris is the multinational trawl fisheries of the North Pacific Ocean. An international solution to this problem is needed. Targeted marine debris removal is a short-term, successful, entanglement mitigation strategy.

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