Preventing Ocean Pollution

The goal of this study is to determine the type, amount, and source of marine debris in the  nearshore waters and shorelines of Hawaii, so we can advocate on local and global levels for  data-driven policies to prevent this material from entering the oceans.

Marine debris encompasses all manufactured products – most of it plastics – that end up in the  ocean. Human behavior, heavy weather events, and poor waste management all contribute to  the collection of this debris in the marine environment. Common types of debris found include disposable plastic food ware, cigarette butts, and derelict fishing gear. Due to its everlasting  qualities, plastics are particularly concerning; in the marine environment, sun, wind, and waves  work to break plastics up into smaller and smaller pieces, giving it the ability to affect life at all  levels of the food chain.

Ocean pollution touches all living organisms. Whales, dolphins, sea turtles and others can become incidentally entangled and injured in debris, or mistake it for food and ingest it. Smaller organisms have been found feeding on tiny bits of plastics, known as microplastics, and the  toxins become absorbed in their tissues. The most dangerous part about marine debris is the  number of unknowns surrounding the effects it has on the marine ecosystem and the animals  that inhabit it.

Due to the location within the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, the Hawaiian archipelago  nearshore waters and coastlines are particularly vulnerable to high debris loads. In fact, compared to other U.S. Pacific coastal areas, Hawai’i receives 2-3 times the amount of debris accumulation. The nearshore habitat of Hawai’i drives ocean-based tourism and supports  extensive coral reef systems. These fragile ecosystems protect our coastlines and provide habitat to a wide variety of marine life.

In order to effectively address this pervasive issue, we must examine marine debris trends throughout the geographically vulnerable Hawaiian archipelago. Data collection focuses on first  identifying what debris items are having an impact, and gathering data that fills knowledge gaps  to best advise on mitigation strategies.

  • Project Partners

    Jennifer Lynch, National Institute for Standards and Technology and Hawaii Pacific University

  • Recent Publications

    2018: Currie, J.J., Stack, S.H., Brignac, K.C., & Lynch, J.M. Nearshore sea surface macro marine  debris in Maui County, Hawaii: Distribution, drivers, and polymer composition. Marine Pollution  Bulletin 138: 70-83.

    2017: Currie, J.J., S.H. Stack, J.A. McCordic, G.D. Kaufman. Quantifying the risk that marine  debris poses to cetaceans in coastal waters of the 4-island region of Maui. Marine Pollution  Bulletin 121: 69–77.

    2016: Blickley, L.C., Currie, J.J., Kaufman, G.D. Trends and drivers of debris accumulation on  Maui shorelines: Implications for local mitigation strategies. Marine Pollution Bulletin 105: 292– 298.

    *For a full list of our research publications, click here:


Hawaii Visitor Update

Aloha, We Are Open!  Our PacWhale Eco-Adventures are open for booking as we welcome visitors back to Maui.  Quarantine restrictions were lifted on Oct. 15th for those following the state’s pre-arrival COVID-19 testing requirements.