Mass of rope, nets at Kamilo Point adds to growing amount of debris on state’s shores

  • The 40-ton net mass looms on the Kamilo Point rocks, while other ocean-borne debris litters the shore. (STATE DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES/Courtesy photo)

  • University of Hawaii researchers and Hawaii Wildlife Fund volunteers investigate a 40-ton net mass that washed ashore in January at Kamilo Point. (STATE DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES/Courtesy photo)

A tangled mass of rope estimated to weigh in excess of 40 tons washed ashore at Kamilo Point last month, the latest in an uptick in seaborne debris accumulating on Hawaii shores.

The mass, an entangled agglomeration of fishing rope and nets, was swept onto the Kamilo Point rocks in late January. University of Hawaii researcher Sarah-Jeanne Royer said the mass likely weighed more than 40 tons, although some of it might have washed back out to sea since it was first discovered.


The state Department of Land and Natural Resources has supervised the removal of eight similar masses from shores across the state within the past month, reported Clifford Inn of the DLNR’s Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation. Inn said so many net masses in such a short time is very unusual, but can be attributed to seasonal current changes.

A vast amount of seaborne debris flows along the North Pacific Gyre, the oceanic current that cycles from Southeast Asia to the West Coast of the United States, Inn said. However, as the seasons change and weather patterns shift, some debris breaks out of the Gyre and drifts elsewhere.

Some of the net masses recently reported could be tied to a 2-mile long garbage patch that was reported flowing through the Kaiwi Channel earlier this year, according to a DLNR report.

Kamilo Point often is referred to as “Plastic Beach” because of the high volume of seaborne refuse that washes ashore there.

Net masses can pose significant dangers to boaters who encounter them, Inn said.

“A big net mass could stop a boat in its tracks,” Inn said. “The rope can get caught up in the propeller and do a lot of damage. They’re quite formidable.”

In addition, net masses can trap and strangle large sea life that get caught among the nets, while non-indigenous fauna can arrive on Hawaii after hitching a ride on seaborne debris, Inn said.

Removing the mass will be a struggle. A net mass that washed ashore at Black Point on Oahu took three or four days to remove, Inn said — and that mass weighed “only” 2 tons.

Net masses can only be removed through days of painstaking labor, with workers cutting through individual ropes with knives until sections of the mass can be carried away, either by hand or by vehicle, Inn said.

Despite the difficulty of the work — made more so by the hostile terrain where masses often wash up — debris must be disposed of as quickly as possible before they break down, leaching contaminants or microplastics into the water.

While the DLNR attempts to dispose of large debris before it washes ashore, tracking garbage patches can be nigh impossible, Inn said.

The University of Hawaii’s International Pacific Research Center is conducting a project where researchers attach GPS trackers to garbage patches in order to predict their movements. The project uses only short-lived trackers, although the project is in conjunction with a NASA project that will deploy GPS buoys on marine debris for more than a year.

Until then, however, debris has to be reported before it causes damage.

“Fishermen love net masses,” Inn said. “They attract the small fish, which attract the larger fish that eat the small fish, all the way up the food chain. Sometimes, they don’t even report them until they’ve already caught all the big fish, and then it’s nearly past the island and we can’t find it.”

Nevertheless, there is no shortage of ocean garbage to recover. Bill Gilmartin of the Hawaii Wildlife Fund estimated the fund has recovered more than 231 tons of garbage from the ocean in the past 15 years. Eight million tons of plastic are estimated to be dumped in the world’s oceans every year.

“That should be enough for all of us to consider our use of plastics and employ the five R’s,” Gilmartin said. “Refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose, recycle.”


Anyone who spots large ocean debris and net masses is encouraged to contact the International Pacific Research Center at

Email Michael Brestovansky at

  1. Kevin H. February 24, 2018 7:36 am

    “Fishermen love net masses,” Inn said. “They attract the small fish, which attract the larger fish that eat the small fish, all the way up the food chain. Sometimes, they don’t even report them until they’ve already caught all the big fish, and then it’s nearly past the island and we can’t find it.”

    Let’s not pretend DLNR or the Coast Guard would do anything about a reported hazard offshore. After the Japanese Tsunami of 2011, a 60 foot piece of pier was reported floating off Kauai. None of them would take responsibility for it. Maybe that’s why fishermen don’t report them anymore.

    1. Kevin H. February 24, 2018 9:49 am

      Picture of the dock floating off Molokai.

  2. antifaHI February 24, 2018 8:39 am

    Every time I went to South Point my truck is being filled with plastic debris. The least one can do. Too bad that the road to get to the real littered parts is so tough to maneuver.

  3. Buds4All February 25, 2018 8:03 am

    If we can verify this garbage is coming from Japan perhaps we should send them the bill for the clean up?

  4. 4whatitsworth February 25, 2018 4:28 pm

    Lets clean this crap up. Where are the environmental activists when there is real work to do?

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