Categorized | Environment, Featured

Hawaii Nets to Energy provides power from marine debris

Marine debris in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. (Photo courtesy of NOAA)


In perhaps what is one of the clearest illustrations of the problem of marine debris, more than 740 tons of it has been removed from the waters and shorelines of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) over the last 14 years.

None of the debris, largely derelict fishing gear from distant fisheries, was dumped there.

The NWHI’s location in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean unfortunately makes its reefs a comb for collecting marine debris from all around the Pacific Rim. Derelict fishing gear fouls and damages sensitive coral reefs and presents an entanglement hazard for endangered and threatened species like the Hawaiian monk seal.

While the Hawaii Nets to Energy Program can’t curb the annual accumulation of an estimated 52 tons of marine debris in the NWHI, it provides an innovative approach to debris disposal. Debris is first collected during annual removal cruises conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and, since 2005, the U.S. Coast Guard.

The debris is transported by ship back to Oahu where it is picked up by Schnitzer Steel Hawaii Corporation and trucked to its scrap metal recycling facility at Campbell Industrial Park. Nets, fishing line, and rope are cut into small pieces, which are then transported to the City and County of Honolulu’s HPower energy-from-waste facility run by Covanta Energy.

There the shredded material is mixed with other municipal solid waste and combusted to create electricity.

Since the start of the Hawaii Nets to Energy Program in 2002, it’s estimated that this debris has created enough electricity to power more than 600 homes on Oahu for a year. Schnitzer Steel and Covanta Energy/HPower are two of nearly two dozen private and public partners in the Hawaii Nets to Energy Program.

Commander Martin Smith of the U.S. Coast Guard said, “The Coast Guard Fourteenth District has supported Marine Debris removal from Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument for the past six years. Buoy tenders, providing a heavy lift capability along with qualified divers, have committed to one trip each year to assist in the removal marine debris.”

The 225-foot-long buoy tender WALNUT, was preparing to deploy for this year’s participation but was diverted to the Gulf of Mexico to support the response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Coast Guard efforts have resulted in the collection of over 75 metric tons of materials since 2002.

“The NOAA Marine Debris Program is proud to be a partner in this proactive alternative to marine debris disposal. This program exemplifies what is possible when government, industry, and the private sector come together,” said David Holst, acting director of the NOAA Marine Debris Program.

Marine debris is one of the primary threats facing Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. Others include invasive species and global climate change.

“These threats are all global ones,” said David Swatland, NOAA Deputy Superintendent for Papahanaumokuakea.

The establishment of the NWHI Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve in 2000 was a bold and pivotal action toward recognizing and addressing these threats, but it is clear, Swatland said, “…that similar challenges are faced by coastal communities all over the world. Marine debris is just a symptom of how we manage our resources. Until we change our behaviors, these issues will continue to threaten our ecosystems.”

Hawaii’s Nets to Energy Program and other public-private partnerships will be featured during the Fifth International Marine Debris Conference in Honolulu, March 20-25, 2011.

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