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Making Waves: Episode 43 (January 20, 2010)


... a new long-term plan to fight marine debris in Hawaii

... ground is broken for a new Ocean Science Education Building in California

... and new information about the impact of lionfish in the Bahamas

We’re going to cover a lot of ground today, so let’s dive in. It’s January 20th, 2010 and this is Making Waves from NOAA’s National Ocean Service.

(Marine Debris)

We’re going to start off today in Hawaii. The Hawaiian islands form one of the longest island chains in the world. It extends 1,500 miles. It’s also one of the most remote island chains on earth. You might think that since these islands are so far from other landmasses and other people, the islands would be relatively free of marine trash.

But that’s not the case. Because of the ocean currents near the islands -- a region known as the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone -- thousands of pounds of marine debris from all over the globe floats through the area and gathers in the waters, snags on reefs, and washes up on the beaches across the island chain.

This debris is a huge problem. Consider it’s impact on whale populations.

Just last month, there was a serious whale entanglement near Maui. A rescue team from NOAA's Pacific Islands Regional Office teamed up with the Coast Guard and Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resources freed a juvenile humpback that was ensnared in a mess of heavy gauge polypropylene rope. It was a dramatic operation. If you haven’t seen the video from that, be sure to check it out on our Web site. It was a great success, but sadly there are many other cases around the world where the whales aren’t so lucky. By some estimates, as many as 300,000 whales die each year because they get entangled in rope and other debris.

But the effects of marine debris isn’t limited to whales. It’s threatens marine ecosystems, it can make navigation dangerous, and it hurts and kills wildlife -- not only whale, but birds, seals, fish, and many other animals.

So how do we tackle such a huge problem? Well, actually, people have been tackling the problem in Hawaii for many years. The State of Hawaii, NOAA, the EPA, private groups, non-profits, academic institutions and many others have been working for a long time to reduce marine debris in the island chain. What’s been lacking up until now is one unified plan that ties together all of the efforts of all of these partners.

Well, just such a plan was unveiled last week that points the way forward for fighting marine debris. It’s called the Hawaii Marine Debris Action Plan, and it’s the end result of two years of effort and coordination between these groups.

The goal is to tie together the many different agencies and partners involved in this huge effort to cleanup the waters around the islands and to reduce the amount of trash in the water in coming years. And that takes a lot of coordination and a good strategy. And that’s what this plan does: it builds upon work that’s ongoing and work that’s been done in the past, and it sets the stage for the future to keep the effort moving in the right direction.
The big picture, of course, is all about reducing marine debris: reducing the current backlog of marine debris, reducing the number of abandoned and derelict vessels; reducing land-based debris in waterways; and reducing fishing gear and solid waste disposal at sea. The plan lays out a strategy to help organize these debris removal efforts, and it sets a framework for emergency response to marine debris hazards, and sets the stage for future prevention and outreach campaign efforts to combat this problem.

The Hawaii Marine Debris Action Plan was supported and coordinated by NOAA’s Marine Debris Program with assistance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
(New Ocean Education Center)
Now let’s head east across the Pacific to California. On Jan. 12th -- the day before the Marine Debris Action Plan was announced in Hawaii -- NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco and University of California, Santa Barbara, Chancellor Henry T. Yang broke ground on the new 15,000-square foot Ocean Science Education Building on the campus of UC Santa Barbara.
The Ocean Science Education Building is not only going to serve as a state-of-the-art educational facility ... it’s also going to serve as a headquarters office for NOAA’s Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.
In the first phase of the project, 7,500-square feet of administrative office and a meeting space are going to be constructed to house 24 NOAA staff members who currently work at Santa Barbara Harbor. Construction is expected to be completed on that in 2011. Not all of the sanctuary staff will be moving, however. There will still be NOAA sanctuary staff who work in the Santa Barbara Harbor offices, and the Sanctuary offices at Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard, Calif., will remain open.
The ocean outreach center will be constructed in the second phase of the project, made possible with private funds being raised by the university and sponsorships. The educational facility in this center is going to be supported by the Channel Islands sanctuary and UC Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute. It’s going to be an amazing place - you can see artist renderings of the building of our Web site. The education center will is going to feature hands-on, standards-based programming on ocean science topics. And it’s going to house interactive exhibits, live aquaria, a wet lab, and an immersive theater.
The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary was designated in 1980. It encompasses about 1128 nautical miles of ocean around the Channel Islands. What’s so special about this area? It’s an amazingly fertile area where warm and cold currents combine together. It’s home to giant kelp forests, and it’s a crossroads for more than 27 species of whales and dolphins, five species of seals and sea lions, more than 60 species of birds, and 23 species of shark. And it’s not only a National Marine Sanctuary, it has also been designated a U.N. World Biosphere Reserve.

(Lionfish Diet)

Finally today, we’re going to continue the journey eastward to the Bahamas to talk about lionfish.
Lionfish are native to the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea, but are now established along the eastern coast of the United States, from Florida to North Carolina. They are also found throughout the northern Caribbean and the Bahamas.
How’d they get all the way over in the Atlantic? Well, since lionfish are popular in the aquarium trade, it is likely the fish were introduced to Atlantic waters by amateur aquarists no longer wishing to keep the fish.
Now scientists are racing to learn more about this invasive species. Since they are not native to Atlantic waters, they have very few predators. And they are themselves voracious predators. How exactly lionfish will affect native fish populations and commercial fishing industries has yet to be determined, but now we know a little more thanks to new research in the Bahamas that suggests the diet of these invasive fish could impact the distribution of other fish living in Bahamian coral reefs.
A few weeks ago, NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and the Reef Environmental Education Foundation released a study that found that lionfish feed upon a wide diversity of reef-associated species. Adult lionfish feed almost exclusively on fish, while juvenile lionfish feed mainly on crustaceans.
The diverse diet of lionfish included over 40 species of fish, and that suggests that lionfish are very flexible predators ... they have the potential to reduce the abundance of a wide variety of native fish found on the reefs.
Two economically important species, Nassau grouper and yellowtail snapper, were among the fish found in the lionfish diet, although in lower frequencies compared with less economically important species. The bad news is that the less valuable fish species are food for snappers and groupers, so the more lionfish eat, the less food to go around. Added to this, the fish species that lionfish are gobbling up play an important role in preserving the reefs by cleaning off algae and plants. If these fish aren’t around to perform this reef cleaning service, the reefs could potentially be overwhelmed.
This latest study is one of many that are helping scientists better understand what role of invasive lionfish in Atlantic Ocean ecosystems.

Given their population explosion and aggressive behavior, this study adds to a growing body of evidence that suggests that lionfish have the potential to become the most disastrous marine invasion in history.

Now let’s end on a positive note. There is one thing we can do to help reduce the lionfish population in the Atlantic. We can eat them. It turns out they taste pretty good and have a nice texture.

According to a separate NOAA report that came out a while back, encouraging a market for lionfish may be one of the only viable methods for controlling the lionfish invasion.

This is the idea behind a new National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science campaign called, you guessed it: ‘Eat Lionfish.’

The campaign is set to kick off soon, and it’s going to feature top chefs in five cities hosting lionfish tasting events. It’s a great idea, and we’re going to talk about it in depth next week.


That’s the news for this week. You can read more about these stories--and see photos and videos, and get links to learn more from our Web site at

If you have any questions about this week’s podcast, about the National Ocean Service, or about our ocean, send us send us an email at

Now let’s bring in the ocean....

This is Making Waves from NOAA’s National Ocean Service.