The Norwegian Retailers’ Environment Fund is awarding 2.5 million Norwegian kroner (NOK), equaling USD$233,000, to Hawaii Pacific University’s Center for Marine Debris Research to remove derelict fishing gear from Hawaii’s coral reefs and study the source fisheries. Lost or abandoned fishing gear, commonly called ghost nets, make up a major portion of the plastic pollution washing ashore on Hawaii’s beaches. Before reaching the shoreline, these bundles of plastic debris entrap marine animals and damage Hawaii’s precious coral reefs.

The Norwegian Retailers’ Environment Fund receives its funding from member retail companies voluntarily charging customers 0.50 NOK for each plastic bag. Part of their mission is to support initiatives that reduce international marine-based plastic litter.

“The funding provided by the Norwegian Retailers’ Environment Fund is a game-changer,” says Dr. Jennifer Lynch, co-director of the Center for Marine Debris Research. “Very limited funds have been available locally or nationally to deal with the large influx of plastic pollution haunting our treasured marine environment. This foreign funding will kick-start an important program to combat the enormous plastic pollution problem in Hawaii.”

“Ghost fishing is one of many examples of the tragedy of the commons, that can only be solved by systematic documentation, information and dialogue. We have high confidence that HPU Research Center will contribute significantly to do exactly that,” says Rasmus Hansson, CEO in the Norwegian Retailers’ Environment Fund.

The ambitious one-year project has four goals:

  1. Removing gear from the reefs, ultimately to be given to Hawaii’s Nets to Energy recycling program
  2. Photo-documenting and sampling the gear to determine the source fisheries
  3. Collaborating and comparing data with other international research organizations to ensure reliable data
  4. Publishing the findings in a peer-reviewed journal as the foundation for ongoing efforts

Finally, the project will examine the feasibility of setting up a program for long-term monitoring and at-sea removal of ghost gear in the Main Hawaiian Islands.

“The idea is to work with the responsible fisheries to detect, track, and remove the gear at-sea, before it strikes and damages the reefs,” says Lynch. “In this way, we can prevent some damage and allow Hawaiian coral reefs to flourish.”

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