HONOLULU — Reports of a "ghost net" floating off the coast of Hawaii have mariners, pilots and residents on the lookout for the large array of netting that poses a threat to sea life.
The U.S. Coast Guard, state Department of Land and Natural Resources and local boating companies have all been alerted, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Wednesday.
The net with a yellow floater bucket was spotted west of Molokini islet Dec. 29 and a handful of nonprofit groups began planning its recovery.
Poor weather has impeded searches for the drifting net, which is estimated to be 50 feet (15 meters) long and deep by 70 feet (21 meters) wide.
Nikolai Maximenko, an oceanography researcher with the University of Hawaii's International Pacific Research Center, said ocean currents have been variable in recent weeks and the net could have drifted anywhere from Oahu to Maui and Hawaii island.
The net may already be stuck on the shore or a reef, he said.
"After two weeks it's difficult to tell where this net is," Maximenko said. "With the strong tradewinds, choppy seas and rough ocean, it's next to impossible to see anything."
Ed Lyman of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary said he was prepared to place a transmitter tracker on the net and then let a larger vessel haul it in.
Ocean Voyages Institute, a California-based nonprofit that has retrieved a number of large nets from the Pacific Ocean, arranged for a sailing cargo vessel to be on standby to retrieve the net.
Maximenko wrote in a recent scientific paper that wayward fishing gear damages large areas of coral reef ecosystems every year.
"The lifespan of these 'ghost nets' is not known but as long as they float they continue killing not only fish, but also sea turtles, seabirds and other marine animals," he wrote.