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Nearshore sea surface macro marine debris in Maui County, Hawaii: distribution, drivers, and polymer composition



Jens Currie, Stephanie Stack, Kayla C. Brignac, Jennifer Lynch


Maui County, a group of four islands in Hawaii, lies within a protected marine sanctuary where recreation, tourism, and marine species coexist. Located within the subtropical convergence zone, the Hawaiian archipelago is subject to high debris loads, receiving in excess of 52 metric tons/year. Here we present the first study to determine the spatial and temporal trends of floating debris quantities and polymer composition within Maui County waters. Line transect surveys were conducted from April 2013 to October 2017 and all floating debris encountered were collected and photographed. From Maui's leeward waters 2,095 items were removed, of which 90% were plastic. The majority of debris (81%) could not be identified as originating from land- or ocean-based sources, however, of the items that could be sourced, 7% originated from land and 12% originated from ocean. Results from these surveys found temporal and spatial trends in debris quantities; indicating a multi-step process of debris accumulation, largely explained by sampling day. Of particular note is the substantial increase in debris counts (items/day) in 2017, of which the majority was plastic fragments. High- and low-density polyethylene and polypropylene accounted for the majority of polymers identified and represent some of the most commonly used plastics that float. The results of this study demonstrate the importance of monitoring and collecting baseline information that can be used to guide and steer further research and mitigation measures.
Marine Pollution Bulletin


Plastic pollution, Hawaii, floating debris, marine debris, polymer, polyethylene, ocean surface currents, ENSO, garbage patch


Currie, J. , Stack, S. , Brignac, K. and Lynch, J. (2018), Nearshore sea surface macro marine debris in Maui County, Hawaii: distribution, drivers, and polymer composition, Marine Pollution Bulletin, [online], (Accessed June 16, 2024)


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Created November 13, 2018, Updated October 12, 2021