Angela Hung: “The Solution to Pollution is Dilution”, July 3, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Angela Hung

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 27-July 5, 2018

 

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 3, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Conditions at 1610

Latitude: 29° 30’ N

Longitude: 92° 51’ W

Relative Humidity: 83%

Temperature: 26° C

Wind Speed: 13 knots

Cloudy with rain

 

Science and Technology Log

“The solution to pollution is dilution” was a common refrain during the midcentury as large scale factories became more common. This mindset applied to both air and water as both seemed limitless. Looking out over the Gulf of Mexico, a relatively small body of water, it’s easy to see how this logic prevailed. Even the Great Lakes, the largest body of fresh surface water in the world, accepted incalculable amounts of pollution and sewage from coastal factories, steel and wood mills, and of course major cities.

Sky and water as far as the eye can see. (It's hard to take a steady shot on a rocking boat!)
Sky and water in the Gulf of Mexico as far as the eye can see from the deck of NOAA Ship Oregon II. (It’s hard to take a steady shot on a rocking boat!)

The rise of the modern technological age that took humans to the moon gave us the first glimpse of the fallacy of the “solution”. “Earthrise” is the first photo of the entire Earth taken from space, showing us how thin our protective atmosphere really is and how delicately the Blue Planet floats in the vastness of space. This is the beginning of the modern environmental movement.

"Earthrise" Photo courtesy of nasa.gov
“Earthrise” Photo courtesy of nasa.gov

To truly guide the development of national policies including those that protect air and water quality, federal agencies such as NOAA are responsible for collecting data about our atmosphere and oceans, now knowing that these ecological compartments cannot endlessly dilute the pollution we generate. What seemed to be an obvious solution has today ballooned into a number of serious problems, from acid rain and blinding smog in cities to burning rivers, mass fish die offs that wash up on Lake Michigan beaches and dying coral reefs in the oceans.

The Cuyahoga River that runs through Cleveland, OH caught fire over a dozen times. This fire in 1969 finally motivated action towards creating the Clean Water Act.
The Cuyahoga River that runs through Cleveland, OH caught fire over a dozen times. This fire in 1969 finally motivated action towards creating the Clean Water Act. Photo from: https://www.alleghenyfront.org/how-a-burning-river-helped-create-the-clean-water-act/

A major pollutant in the Gulf is sourced from industrial agriculture practices from as far away as Illinois and the rest of the Midwest farm belt. Fertilizer and pesticides enter local rivers that find their way to the Mississippi River which carries contaminants into the Gulf of Mexico.

We have reached the Gulf’s “Dead Zone”, yielding a few tiny catches. Station W1601 may have given the smallest catch ever—a clump of seaweed and a whole shrimp.

The case of the shrinking trawls. On left, a catch from the night of July 2. Center and right, samples from two stations in hypoxic waters. The fish in the right photo may have been stuck in the net from the previous trawl.
The case of the shrinking trawls. On left, a catch from the night of July 2. Center and right, July 3 samples from two stations in hypoxic waters. The fish in the right photo may have been stuck in the net from the previous trawl.

Hypoxia literally means “low oxygen”. When fertilizers used to grow corn and soy enter bodies of water, they likewise feed the growth of algae, which are not technically plants but they are the aquatic equivalent. But plants make oxygen, how can this lead to low oxygen? Algae and land plants only produce oxygen during the day. At night, they consume oxygen gas through respiration. They do this during the day as well, but overall produce more oxygen in the light through photosynthesis. For hundreds of millions of years, that’s been fine, but the recent addition of fertilizers and the warm Gulf waters cause an explosion of the kind of microscopic algae that are suspended in the water column and turn water bright green, or red in the case of “red tides”. These explosions are called algal blooms.

Red tide. Photo credit: https://ocean.si.edu/ocean-life/plants-algae/red-tide
Red tide. Photo credit: https://ocean.si.edu/ocean-life/plants-algae/red-tide

Algal blooms can cloud up water, making life hard for other photosynthetic organisms such as coral symbionts and larger seaweeds. At night, animals can suffocate without oxygen. During red tides, some algae release toxins that harm other life. When these organisms die and sink, bacteria go to work and decompose their bodies. The population of bacteria explodes, consuming the remaining oxygen at the sea floor. Animals that wander into the hypoxic zone also suffocate and die, feeding more decomposer bacteria that can survive with little to no oxygen. Thus, hypoxic areas are also called “dead zones”.  The hypoxic zone is just above the sea floor, as little as a half a meter above, and oxygen levels can drop precipitously within a meter of the bottom.

NOAA scientists including those conducting the SEAMAP Summer Groundfish survey on Oregon II track the location, size and movement of the Gulf hypoxic zone using the conductivity-temperature-dissolved oxygen probe, or CTD. The CTD is sent into the water before every trawl to take a variety of measurements. Besides conductivity (a measure of ions), temperature and oxygen, the CTD also checks the salinity, clarity and amount of photosynthetic pigments in the water, which gives an idea of plankton populations. Ours uses two different sensors for conductivity, salinity, temperature and oxygen, double-checking each other. A pump pulls water through the various sensors and the measurements are sent directly to a computer in the dry lab to record these data.

The CTD is lowered to just under the surface of the water to make sure the pump is working and to flush the system. Then it is lowered to within a meter of the bottom. The CTD also has an altimeter to measure the distance from the bottom, while the ship also uses sonar to determine the water depth at each station. Water is measured continuously as the CTD is lowered and raised, creating a graph that profiles the water column. Crewmen are on deck controlling the winches according to the directions from a scientist over the radio who is monitoring the water depth and measurements in the dry lab.

Conductivity, temperature, dissolved oxygen sensor (CTD). The gray cylinders are bottles that can store water samples.
Conductivity, temperature, dissolved oxygen sensor (CTD). The gray cylinders are bottles that can store water samples.
Casting the CTD is a coordinated effort.
Casting the CTD is a coordinated effort.

The CTD also has bottles that can store water samples so oxygen can be tested a third time in the lab onboard. When we only get a few fish where the CTD recorded normal oxygen, the CTD is launched again to verify oxygen levels using all three methods. In the CTD output, oxygen is coded in green as a line on the graph and in the data tables. Most stations read in the 5-6 range, the cutoff for hypoxia is 2. We are reading less than 1 in the Dead Zone.

CTD output. Depth is on the vertical axis and each measurement is scaled on the horizontal axis, showing how each variable changes as the CTD moves to the bottom and back to the surface.
CTD output. Depth is on the vertical axis and each measurement is scaled on the horizontal axis, showing how each variable changes as the CTD moves to the bottom and back to the surface.
Quadruple check on dissolved oxygen in Gulf waters the "old fashioned" way using a Winkler titration.
Triple check on dissolved oxygen in Gulf waters the “old fashioned” way using a Winkler titration.

 With storms in the path and not-so-plenty of fish in the sea, today is a slow day.

 

Personal Log

Looking out over the water, I can’t help but think how intrepid, even audacious, early mariners must have been. I know we are within a couple miles of the coast but there’s no sign of land anywhere in any direction. Even with the reassurance that satellites, radar, radios, AND trained NOAA Corps officers steering in the bridge are all keeping track of us, I still swallow a moment of panic. What kind of person decides to sail out in search of new continents when it only takes a couple hours to lose track of where you came from? And yet, the Polynesians set out thousands years ago in canoes from mainland Asia, the Aborigine ancestors managed to find Australia, and of course, Europeans sailed across the Atlantic to the Americas, whether they knew it or not. It was all possible through careful observations of the winds, waves, ocean currents, stars and other indications of direction, but I still have to think that that’s a pretty bold move when you don’t know if land lies ahead.

No land in sight.
No land in sight.

At least we’re not alone out here. These are some other animals that we’ll leave for the mammal survey and birders to count.

 

Did You Know?

The CTD also shows the layers of ocean water. Looking at the graph again for the red (salinity) and blue (temperature) lines, we can see where they cross at about 15 meters. This shows where colder, saltier water starts compared to the warm surface water that is diluted by fresh water and mixed by wind.

Christine Hedge, August 13, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christine Hedge
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009 

Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey
Location: Chukchi Sea, north of the arctic circle
Date: August 13, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge  
Long: 14809.54199W
Lat: 78017.31641N
Air Temp: 31.08 0F

Science and Technology Log 

A CTD, above, is much bigger than an XBT, which I’m holding in the picture below.
A CTD, above, is much bigger than an XBT, which I’m holding in the picture below.

Sound waves travel at different speeds through different substances.  If you look up the speed of sound in air you will find it to be about 300 meters/second, in water 1500 meters/second.  But these numbers are not constants.  In water, the temperature, the amount of salt, and the pressure can all impact how fast sound waves travel.  In other words, all water is not created equal.  Our mapping mission depends on data collected from bouncing sound waves off the sea floor.  In order to get an accurate image of what the sea floor looks like and how deep it is – we need to measure precisely how fast the sound waves are traveling.  This means we need to have a handle on any variable that might change the speed of the sound waves.  Measuring the speed of sound in the water column is an important part of data collection for accurate mapping.

So, how does the Healy measure the speed of sound? Sometimes we use a Conductivity-Temperature-Depth instrument (CTDs).  The ship needs to be stationary to deploy these instruments so they don’t happen very often while we are cruising. CTD measurements record conductivity of the water, which gives us the salinity (how much salt is in the water), temperature, and the depth at which these measurements were taken. Four times a day instruments called Expendable Bathythermographs (XBTs) are deployed off the moving ship. These XBTs measure the temperature as the device travels through the water. As pressure increases, (the deeper you go) the speed of sound increases. As temperature decreases, the speed of sound decreases. Four times a day the Healy science crew gets new data so that they can determine more precisely the speed of sound and therefore interpret what the sound waves are telling us.

Here I am deploying the XBT into the Arctic.
Here I am deploying the XBT into the Arctic.

Today, MST-2 (Marine Science Technician) Daniel Jarrett let me participate in the deployment of an XBT. As the device travels through the water it sends back temperature data from different depths to a computer on board.

The data travels through a very thin copper wire attached to the instrument. A graph of this data is observed and that information is used to create a profile of the speed of sound in that part of the Arctic Ocean at that moment in time.

Personal Log 

All the things I do at home also have to be done on board ship. I eat, sleep, shower, exercise, and do laundry. The food is excellent so far. I love not having to cook or plan meals.  There is fresh fruit, a salad bar, and a huge hot breakfast every day. It will be a rude awakening when I return home and have to plan and cook meals again! My daily routine does not involve much physical activity and I worry about gaining weight while on board. In order to stay in shape, it seems everyone uses the gyms or runs on deck. I have been working out on the treadmill or elliptical every day faithfully to avoid a severe weight gain.

Was the data good? Did the deployment work?
Was the data good? Did the deployment work?

The laundry and all other facilities are really nice. I have a 25-year-old washer/dryer at home and was pleasantly surprised to find state of the art, low-water-usage, front-loading washers on board the Healy. From what I can see the United States Coast Guard is working hard to become a “green” organization.  Trash is separated and recycled when possible. People are encouraged to reduce their water usage. Extreme care is given to filtering and recycling wastewater and any kind of oil or lubricants. It is great to see the amount of thought and energy that is being put into helping the community on board the Healy to “walk lightly” on the Earth.

The Healy is very careful to treat the arctic with care
The Healy is very careful to treat the arctic with care

Patricia Greene, July 16, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Patricia Greene
Onboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai
June 26 – July 30, 2006

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographical Area: Central Pacific Ocean, Hawaii
Date: July 16, 2006

The ornate butterflyfish (Chaetodon ornatissimus) is one type of butterflyfish that is also a coral predator.
The ornate butterflyfish (Chaetodon ornatissimus) is one type of butterflyfish that is also a coral predator.

Science and Technology Log

When you think of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and predators, the first thing that comes to mind may be the apex predators; tiger sharks, Galapagos sharks and species of huge fish such as the jacks. Corallivores (an animal that feeds on corals) may include fish, sea stars or mollusks.  Generally, two types are recognized; obligate corallivores; those that feed only on corals and facultative corallivores; which feed on corals, algae, sponges, and mollusks.However, while snorkeling the Kure Atoll, I was reminded that there is another group of predators here; the corallivores. I observed a crown of thorns that appeared to be feeding on the coral and upon further research I discovered and recognized a variety of Northwestern Hawaiian Islands creatures that I have seen that also specialize in feeding on corals.

The crown of thorns feeds by inverting its stomach through its mouth, and then digests the corals externally. Human attempts at controlling populations of crown of thorns have been relatively unsuccessful and causes of these population spikes or outbreaks have been a topic of debate. Some believe they are natural occurrences and occur in cycles while other scientists believe they are due to human causes such as increased sedimentation and pollution.The crown of thorns (Acanthaster planci) has cryptic coloration and toxin-filled spines.  It prefers to feed on rice corals (Montipora), lace corals (Pocillopora), and cauliflower corals (Acropora). Ironically, the crown of thorn eggs and larvae are often fed on by the stony corals. Other natural enemies of the crown of thorns is the harlequin shrimp and the fireworm. This little shrimp does not kill the crown of thorns, but merely creates a small, open wound. This is known as “facilitated predation.” The larvae of the fireworm then enter the cavity, reproduce, and the offspring eat the crown of thorns from the inside out; eventually causing death.

The crown of thorns (Acanthaster planci) is a major predator of coral reefs.
The crown of thorns (Acanthaster planci) is a major predator of coral reefs.

We have also observed a variety of butterflyfish on the reefs; all that are also coral predators. The ornate butterflyfish (Chaetodon ornatissimus), the oval butterflyfish (Chaetodon lunulatus), the fourspot butterflyfish (Chaetodon quadrimaculatus), and the multiband butterflyfish (Chaetodon multicinctus), are all obligate corallivores. Other butterflyfish that eat both corals and invertebrates include; the threadfin butterflyfish (Chaetodon auriga) and the teardrop butterflyfish (Chaetodon unimaculatus).

We have also identified the spotted pufferfish (Arothron meleagris) hiding in the corals of Kure Atoll’s lagoon. This unique creature has a beak-like mouth with sharp frontal teeth for removing pieces of substrate and flat teeth in the back for grinding. They feed on a variety of organisms, including the stony corals and calcareous algae. They have a unique adaptation that allows them to lodge their bodies into a crevice or hole and then puff up so it is impossible for a predator to dislodge them. Their tissue is relatively toxic to humans.The shortbodied blenny (Exallias brevis) is an obligate corallivore. It prefers the lobe (Porites lobata) and finger coral (Porites compressa). The spotted color of these fish blends nicely with the colonies of coral. Removing tiny bites these fish have little impact on the health of the corals. The coral colony is able to regenerate new polyps and fill in he bite marks.

The shortbodied blenny (Exallias brevis) is an obligate corallivore, which feeds on coral.
The shortbodied blenny is an obligate corallivore, which feeds on coral.

The blue-eye damselfish (Plectroglyphidodon johnstonianus) inhabits the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands coral reefs. It feeds only on coral, preferring the lace, antler, cauliflower, finger and lobe corals. These small fish are very territorial and will defend their nests, hiding in the corals that also serve as food. Most of the coral predators do not pose any major threats to the coral reefs. They are natural inhabitants of the reefs and do little damage. The crown of thorns can cause mass devastation; during major outbreaks at other Pacific Ocean locations the coral cover was reduced from 78% to 2%. In 1970, approximately 26,000 crown of thorns were destroyed off the southern coast of Moloka`i. However, during all of dives in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands we only observed two crown of thorns, which is good news for this remote region.

Patricia Greene, July 13, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Patricia Greene
Onboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai
June 26 – July 30, 2006

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographical Area: Central Pacific Ocean, Hawaii
Date: July 13, 2006

Old fishing nets get piled up on the pier on Green Island at Kure Atoll waiting for the marine debris crew to pick up
Old fishing nets get piled up on the pier on Green Island at Kure Atoll waiting for the marine debris crew to pick up

Science and Technology Log

One reason the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) are so unique is that they contain some of the most isolated, pristine, and genetically pure coral reefs in the world.  Kure Atoll is approximately 1,200 miles from the main Hawaiian Islands. It represents one of the last intact, predator-dominated reef ecosystems. It is a critically important habitat to a wide range of species including seabirds, sea turtles, monk seals, and sharks.  The earliest creatures arrived on these islands by swimming, flying, or floating for thousands of miles and then with the passage of time, evolved into genetically different species. These species are referred to as ‘endemic’ meaning they are unique to that area.

Historically, man’s greatest impact on the ecosystems of NWHI has taken two major venues; importation of terrestrial alien or exotic species and mass slaughter or over-harvesting of existing endemic species.  Understanding the past can help us protect the future of the NWHI.Hawai`i has a very high incidence of marine endemism due to the age of the islands (Kure Atoll is approximately 28 million years old) and the relative isolation from other coral reefs. The prevailing currents generally run from east to west; keeping larvae from other reefs from reaching Hawai`i. Also, the waters here tend to be cooler and the wave action intense, deterring foreign species from colonizing. The marine ecosystems have been far less impacted by man than the terrestrial ecosystems. Only 11 aquatic invasive marine invertebrate, fish, and algal specifies have been identified in the NWHI.  The magnitude of the problem of aquatic invasive species is far greater in main Hawaiian Islands than in NWHI. Endemism and diversity in the NWHI has reportedly been higher than the main Hawaiian Islands for some corals and other reef species. However, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands have not been free from human influence.

Early influence of man can be traced back approximately 1,000 years ago when Polynesians were the first to change the natural ecosystems of the islands. They brought to the main Hawaiian Islands animals such as boars, dogs and rats. However, the first documented evidence of mammals being introduced to the NWHI occurred in 1894 when entrepreneurs from a rabbit canning industry released rabbits that literally devoured all the vegetation on some islands; Laysan, Lisianski, and Southeast Island at Pearl and Hermes Atoll. Other alien or exotic plant and insect species (those that have been brought from other areas) drastically changed the existing ecosystems by destroying or out-competing many of the native endemic species. Until very recently the exotic Polynesian rats were major predators on Kure Atoll; eating the bird eggs and killing chicks. Today all the NWHI are completely rat free.

An old Coast Guard anchor sits deep within the Verbesina, a bright yellow flowering plant in the sunflower family that is an exotic, invasive plant on many of the atolls.
An old Coast Guard anchor sits deep within the Verbesina, a bright yellow flowering plant in the sunflower family that is an exotic, invasive plant on many of the atolls.

The Verbesina encelioides that we viewed on Kure Atoll; a bright yellow flowering plant in the sunflower family, is an excellent example of an exotic, invasive plant. This weed has literally suffocated and killed native plants as well as engulfed open space used as  nesting sites. Without weeding efforts by researchers, scientists and volunteers the birds would no longer have “runways” to allow the fledgings to run, take-off, and try their wings. Approximately 312 plant species have been identified on the NWHI. Thirty-seven species are indigenous, 12 endemic, the other remaining 267 are alien or exotic species.

Of the 485 species of insects and spiders found in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands over 300 of them have been introduced by accident. Only 100 out of 485 are indigenous and another 80 are endemic. It is estimated over 20 new species of insects are introduced accidentally to mainland Hawai`i every year. This is just one reason why strict regulations are in place to minimize the introduction of new species to the NWHI. Exotic insects have devastating effects on the natural ecosystems. Ants on Kure Atoll have plagued the seabird chicks, who are relatively immobile during their early years and stay in the same nest area. Ants also displace native insects and can have such a major influence on ecosystems that they invade, or are introduced to, that they are called “ecosystem busters.”

In addition to the biological invasions, man has also brought other contaminants to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Even though the area is thousands of miles from human inhabitation the islands remain impacted by man’s past military occupation. Kure Atoll is still recuperating from the remains of a Coast Guard station, LORAN tower and unlined dump site on the island. Contaminants may include elevated levels of copper, nickel, lead and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s). Midway contamination from military operations include; petroleum, DDT, PCB’s, and heavy metals such as cadmium, lead and mercury. Over 75 million dollars were allocated by the Department of Defense for extensive clean up efforts on Midway Atoll just prior to the Naval Air Facility’s transfer to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The remoteness of the area does not protect the islands from the prevailing ocean currents and man's trash.
The remoteness of the area does not protect the islands from the prevailing ocean currents and man’s trash.

During the Navy’s tenure at Midway,  in an effort to protect their pilots and aircraft, they would permit the deaths of thousands of albatrosses which are large enough to cause a danger to aircraft during landing or takeoff. In the short period 1957-58, over 36,000 birds were slaughtered and unknown thousands in subsequent years in an attempt to keep a major runway clear of albatross on Sand Island. When dead albatrosses began piling up on Midway, the commanding officer ordered them dumped at sea. However, with poetic justice, the prevailing currents carried an entire barge’s contents of rotting bird carcasses back to the beach at Midway and sailors had to pick them up and bury them.In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands were exploited and ravished by seal hunters, whalers, feather hunters, pearl divers and guano miners. Seals, sea turtles, seabirds, sharks and whales were slaughtered en mass. In 1824 the ship Gambiamay have taken as many as 1,500 seals. The ship’s log of the Ada (1882) reported taking 103 sea turtles in just three days. Japanese feather hunters slaughtered thousands of seabirds. In the period from 1904 to 1915 counts of 284,000, 64,000, 119,000 and 200,000 dead birds and literally tons of feathers, were confiscated from Japanese poachers. These numbers represent only a fraction of the slaughter; only those who were caught poaching; many hundreds of thousands of bird deaths went undocumented and undetected.

The black-lipped pearl oyster (Pinctada margarifera) is one of the most obvious examples of the devastation man’s exploitation may cause. Masses of oyster beds were discovered at Pearl and Hermes in 1927. Within only three years of discovery estimates of over 200,000 oysters or 150,000 tons had been harvested and the oysters almost eliminated. An act was passed in 1929 making it illegal to take pearl oysters in Hawaiian waters. Later, in 1930, an expedition was sent to determine the extent of the damage to the oyster beds; only 480 oysters were found. By 1950 only six oysters were observed, and in 1969 only one oyster was found. More recent surveys in 1969, 1996, and 2000 found only a few oysters while a comprehensive 2003 NOAA study documented sightings of over 1,000 individual oysters. However, while the latter study suggests the oyster population may be starting to recover, almost 80 years have passed and the numbers do not begin to compare to the pre-exploitation levels. The pearl oyster clearly demonstrates the damage a coral reef can sustain from over-harvesting and the inordinate length of time it may take to recover even under full protection.

Fortunately, the entire reef is partially protected from many human influences by location and strict State and Federal restrictions. Existing in such a remote location the atolls and islands do not have the typical issues of coastal pollution and eutrophication from human inhabitation, tourism, development or agriculture like the main Hawaiian Islands. For the most part, the only humans to visit this isolated wilderness are researchers and scientists and they must sign and adhere to strict government permits and quarantines. All clothing or soft goods must be frozen for 48 hours to help prevent alien insects or seeds from going ashore. All dive gear must be soaked in a bleach solution after each use. Many varieties of fresh fruits and vegetables are forbidden on the islands.

However, the remoteness of the area does not protect the islands from the prevailing ocean currents and man’s trash. Currents in the North Pacific carry plastics and marine discards to the island shores. A portion of this debris may be terrestrial in origin while much of it obviously originates from fishing ships. As we walked along the shores of Kure Atoll we observed thousands of articles of domestic or household origin and items that were clearly from marine origins such as floats, nets, and other equipment connected with the industry. Based on past and current marine removal operations it is estimated that over 1,000 tons of debris has accumulated in the NWHI. Yearly accumulation rates are estimated at 40-80 tons. These amounts will continue indefinitely unless we educate and reduce the sources.

Legally, acts have been passed since the early 1900’s in attempts to protect the fragile creatures of the NWHI. Earliest efforts by Teddy Roosevelt (1909) attempted to protect the seabirds from the feather hunters by establishing the Hawaiian Islands Reservation. This reservation granted protections from Nihoa to Kure Atoll (minus Midway Atoll which at the time was owned by the U.S. military).  Since sea turtles travel from the NWHI to feeding grounds throughout the main Hawaiian Islands full protection did not occur until 1973 with the Endangered Species Act. Wild dolphins are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, while the Hawaiian Monk Seals are protected under both the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The NWHI are of critical importance to monk seals and the sea turtles. The majority of the monk seals in existence live in the NWHI. Over 90% of green sea turtles depend upon the French Frigate Shores for their breeding grounds.  Researchers take surveys and collect information on the life cycles of the animals in an attempt to aid recovery of the populations and ensure that any of these species will not become extinct. Data is collected on monk seals, spinner dolphins, seabirds, and turtles by researchers in the NWHI.

Most recently, President Bush changed the designation of the marine area from a coral reef ecosystem reserve to include the islands as a Marine National Monument to effect more immediate change. By doing this the eight fishing permits that currently exist for the area will be phased out in five years and the entire Northwestern Hawaiian Islands will fall under more stringent long term protection.

However, legislation and presidential actions will not stop the debris that is carried from thousands of miles by ocean currents and deposited on the shores of these islands or correct some of the more subtle impacts of man that remain. We need to look deeply into the past, reflect upon our trespasses, and learn from our mistakes. Only education, protection and careful scrutiny of our environment and natural resources will accomplish this and provide future protection. Prevention is a better solution than attempts to clean-up. History tells us we must be better care-takers of our fragile coral ecosystems.