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News 14 Sep
Study ties more marine debris to El Nino
Significantly more marine debris washes ashore in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands during El Nino periods than during La Nina conditions, according to a new study.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday that the 16-year study is the first to document the influence of El Nino — a major warming of the equatorial waters in the Pacific Ocean — and La Nina — a cooling of the Pacific's equatorial waters — on marine debris in the uninhabited islands.
The increase in marine debris in the NWHI is associated with the southward movement during El Nino periods of the Subtropical Convergence Zone, an area in the North Pacific where two ocean currents meet.
The zone has high densities of marine debris, NOAA said.
The study was based on information gathered by volunteers with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who removed more than 52,000 pieces of debris from the shore of the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge's Tern Island station since 1990.
More than 70 percent of the debris, including bottles and cigarette lighters, was made of plastic.
"Studies like this help provide information that can be used to effectively continue addressing the pervasive problem of marine debris," said Carey Morishige, the lead author of the study and outreach coordinator for the NOAA Marine Debris Program.
In addition to being an eyesore, smaller pieces of debris can be ingested by wildlife such as the Laysan albatross, whose main breeding population is located in the islands.
The NWHI, which stretch out 1,000 miles from the main Hawaiian Islands, is also home to the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, threatened green sea turtle and many other species.
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