A couple celebrating their anniversary off the coast of Lana‘i has taken the idea of of picking up trash along the shore to the next level. The Maui couple, Kristin Hettermann and Sven Lindblad, were exploring the coastline of Lana‘i by boat in mid-February when they spotted a large mass of fishing net and plastic trash on the remote volcanic tidepools by Nanahoa Islet (also known as Three Stone).
The couple and their captain guessed a fishing net had washed into the tidepools of the three large pinnacles during the recent tumultuous weather in Hawai‘i. But after snorkeling to the spot and climbing to investigate, Lindblad and Hettermann saw something up close that they say shocked them both: a mass of fishing net so dense that it could not be budged. The net, estimated to weigh up to 2,000 pounds, was full of an uncountable assortment of different types of fishing and cargo nets, buoys, and other plastic trash. They estimated it to be about 30 feet in length.
It was clear they would not be able to move the large piece of ocean trash, but as they continued their circumnavigation of the island, the couple could not forget what they had seen. “As inspired ocean conservationists, Sven and I are constantly exploring the world’s ocean, raising awareness for its challenges, encouraging behavior change, and supporting organizations doing important ocean conservation work,” Hettermann said. “It just didn’t seem right to leave it there when we had the capacity and resources to do something about it.”
Lindblad and Hettermann reached out to Captain Jason Allen of Fish N Chips Sport Fishing that evening for a quote to charter the boat again, but this time, they wanted to take along Skylar Fisher, a local free diver. The group returned the next day and began their work to reclaim the trash and take it to a place where it could be more easily and properly disposed of by the island’s services.
“We had no idea how this was going to work,” Lindblad said. “It was a very difficult task. Our first attempt was to try to hook it with a large metal marine grade hook and use the boat’s 500-horsepower engine to drag the net back into the sea. The hook immediately bent. When we were able to get line tied around the girth of the mass, the boat was powerful enough to drag it off the ledge and into the ocean.”
The group towed the mass back to the Manele Small Boat Harbor – a two-hour trip with speeds no higher than 2 knots per hour.
Hettermann and Lindblad said they decided to undertake the challenge in hopes that their efforts would inspire others to do their part in cleaning up our ocean. “Hopefully, as we move to the future new materials will be made that can address human needs – sustenance, transport – and not last for decades in our natural systems,” Hettermann said. “Even though what we saw was a lot of fishing net, the blame is not to rest on the fishermen just throwing their trash in the ocean. So much of our modern challenge rests in just cleaning up the remnants of the past – what was accepted and expected – that somehow ended up in our natural system. Every little bit of trash that is removed from the ocean system helps as we hopefully move toward a more sustainable future for our planet.”
Fishing nets abandoned at sea remain in the marine ecosystem for hundreds of years, and can result in the accidental capture and death of dolphins, turtles, and other marine animals. Known as ghost fishing nets, experts have estimated that there are roughly 640,000 tons of these nets currently in our ocean, accounting for 10 percent of the total plastic waste in the sea.
“If you imagine anyone with means – whether it be a boat, willing hands, or monetary resources – viewing ocean trash as an obligation to act, citizens of all stripes could accomplish a lot to rid our oceans of this scourge,“ Lindblad said.
Sven Lindblad, founder of Lindblad Expeditions, and his fiance Kristin Hettermann, founder of OCEANSCAPES, are based between Maui and New York and both are active internationally in the ocean conservation arena. Lindblad is an Ocean Elder, a member of a dedicated group of global leaders that use their collective influence to pursue the protection of the ocean’s habitat and wildlife. Hettermann is an artist, writer, and underwater photographer.
Photo courtesy of Kristin Hettermann