HONOLULU (KHON2) — More than 97,000 pounds of marine debris were removed from reefs and beaches at Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Of that amount, the team from Hawaii nonprofit Papahānaumokuākea Marine Debris Project removed 86,000 pounds of ghost nets from a single reef.

This open-ocean coral reef is known as Kamokuokamohoaliʻi, which translates to “island of the shark god,” and harbors 37 coral species. It’s located over 800 miles from Honolulu.

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In July, PMDP’s team of 16 freedivers left Honolulu on a 27-day cleanup expedition to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. They spent 12 of those days intensively working at Kamokuokamohoaliʻi, surveying 1,100 acres of coral reef and successfully removing 86,000 pounds of ghost nets.

“That’s the equivalent of taking a walk through New York’s Central Park and a few surrounding blocks, and finding enough trash to equal the weight of a commercial commuter airliner,” PMDP President Kevin O’Brien said in Tuesday’s announcement.

O’Brien added that Kamokuokamohoaliʻi is one of the most pristine and isolated places on the planet, so the fact that they’re seeing this kind of volume in such a small area shows how bad it is with global marine debris.

Derelict fishing net at Kāmole/Laysan Island. (Courtesy: Charlotte Frank/PMDP)

Ghost nets are large tangled masses of lost or discarded fishing nets made of plastic. They routinely snag on shallow coral reefs and pose a major entanglement hazard for marine wildlife, like endangered Hawaiian monk seals. At Kamokuokamohoaliʻi, the team discovered one net had plastered across nearly 200 feet of reef and smothered much of the living coral beneath it.

“An estimated 115,000 lbs of marine debris accumulates on the reefs of Papahānaumokuākea each year, and if PMDP isn’t cleaning it up, no one is,” PMDP Executive Director James Morioka said in a statement.

Large trawl net found at Kamokuokamohoaliʻi / Maro Reef. (Courtesy: James Morioka/PMDP)

In September, PMDP is planning to do another cleanup, with the goal of removing another 100,000 pounds. They want to continue regular cleanup efforts to help maintain coral reef health and protect wildlife that get entangled in these ghost nets.

During last month’s expedition, PMDP also cleaned up 11,000 pounds of nets and plastics from the shorelines of Kamole and Kapou, yielding a total haul of 97,295 pounds.

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A majority of the debris will be incinerated to generate electricity for hundreds of Oahu homes.