In our “Feeling Trapped” blog post, we briefly talked about the issue of ghost nets and their major contribution to plastic pollution in our oceans. Today, we are going to dive a little deeper into the topic.
Ghost nets? Pretty spooky.
While ghost nets have little to do with restless spirits, they are equally haunting. The term describes commercial fishing nets that are discarded, lost, or abandoned at sea. You might wonder why fishermen would leave their nets behind – after all, their livelihoods depend on them. Nets can go missing for various reasons; oftentimes they get stuck on reefs or wrecks and cannot be retrieved by the fishermen anymore. Other times, nets kept afloat by buoys may get too heavy and sink to the ocean floor. And sometimes, worn-out nets are simply left behind in the water because it is the easiest and most effortless way to get rid of them.
The problem is that most nets are made of extremely durable materials, which means they can continue “ghost fishing” for decades! Every year, millions of marine animals are trapped and killed in unattended nets, from small fish to large species like seals, turtles, dolphins, or sharks, that were attracted by the bait. Entangled animals face exhaustion, suffocation, starvation, or amputations of limbs, which lead to their death in many cases. Even the ones that manage to free themselves may be severely hurt or have suffered from long lasting damage. And the saddest part is that nobody benefits from any of these ghost catches.
In case all of this is not bad enough already, ghost nets and other fishing gear are estimated to amount to 46% of the pacific garbage patch and 10% of all marine litter in our oceans. Marine animals or birds that manage to avoid entanglement may still end up harmed by ingesting these pieces of plastic.
What can be done?
There are several initiatives trying to tackle this problem. Fishing nets made out of biodegradable material could be a part of the solution, as losing nets cannot always be avoided. Other promising initiatives include net tracking technology for greater accountability of individual fishermen, ghost net recycling projects that may create greater incentives to take care of their nets, and of course the endless number of Dive Against Debris that are taking place all around the world.
Raising awareness about this topic is crucial. Now, a motivated group of young people is doing exactly that! Introducing: Tangled Seas – The Film.
Based in Bangalore, this ocean-loving group of students, filmmakers, science graduates, Ph.D. students, photographers, divers, marine biologists, and marketing professionals is planning to make a movie about the impact of ghost nets. They are hopeful that by reaching a larger audience, they can help pave the way for change that is so urgently needed to protect our marine ecosystems. At the moment, they are still running a crowdfunding campaign for the project expenses, so if you were looking for a good cause to donate to, this could be it 😉