What comes to mind when we start talking about plastic pollution in our oceans?
Perhaps you imagine a beach covered in plastic bottles, plastic lids, plastic bags floating in the water or plastic straws scattered over the sand. Am I right?
Well, you may be surprised to learn that although we all know that those plastic items are a huge problem, there are others that even these days go unnoticed but are, according to the WWF (World Wildlife Fund), the deadliest for our marine fauna.
We are talking about ghost fishing gear.
What is ghost fishing gear and why is it considered to be the most lethal plastic for our marine life?
Ghost fishing gear is made up of nets, fishing equipment and even leftover boat ropes and lines that, intentionally or not, end up abandoned at sea.
Sometimes they get hooked on something or are lost and are not able to be retrieved. Other times, above all amongst the illegal fishing underworld, the nets are thrown overboard to hide illegal activities.
The problem with ghost fishing gear is, that it is predominantly made of plastic and therefore does not degrade, it keeps on catching all types of animals.
As Enrique Segovia, director of conservation at the WWF in Spain, tells us: “Ghost nets continue capturing species of commercial interest, which has an impact on this resource itself, and at the same time they also entangle species that are not the fishing target: such as sharks, sea mammals, marine birds, turtles… which results in a slow and painful death for the animal concerned. Or they may end up with a physical impediment for many years until the animal is found and potentially helped”.
Enrique himself uses the example of the “Vaquita”, the smallest porpoise in the world, who lives in the waters off the Golf of Mexico and of which less than 20 individuals remain: “this marine mammal gets trapped in the loose nets and this is pushing the species towards the edge of extinction.”
Ghost gear: a numerous and persistent enemy
According to the report by the WWF “Stop Ghost Gear it is estimated that 5.7% of all fishing nets, 8.6% of traps and pots, and 29% of all fishing lines used globally are abandoned, lost or discarded into the environment.
In fact, the presence of this type of ocean waste is so common, that 46% of the rubbish that forms the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is made up of nets, lines and ropes from the fishing and shipping industries.
But if these figures weren’t serious enough, we also need to remember that a net not only traps or entangles one single animal, it is specifically designed to keep on doing so as long as it remains in the ocean.
The same report from the WWF is clear on this topic: “there are observed cases of ghost gear continuing to capture and kill animals decades after being lost.”
“There are observed cases of ghost gear continuing to capture and kill animals decades after being lost”.
The answer: there is reason for optimism
Para WWF, las soluciones pasan por la aprobación de una normativa global que obligue a:
- Change the materials used in fishing equipment: “using recyclable plastic in order to no longer contribute to promoting the plastic industry and starting to use plastics with a high biodegradable component”.
- Personalise nets: “in a way that if you find a ghost net in the middle of the ocean you know who it belongs to. Combined with GPS systems to be able to locate lost nets.”
- Retrieval of lost nets: “so that it ends up more expensive to toss the net, than to bring it in and take it into port.”
Enrique Segovia tells us that the good news is that: “there are already boats and organisations that are collecting rubbish from the ocean. But therefore we are talking about the need for a regulatory framework, a global treaty that makes it easy to collect the plastic waste that is already in the ocean. Above all in the areas where the waste accumulates. We have the technology, it is just a question of setting up the resources and getting started”.
So that this global regulation goes ahead, it is important that people get behind campaigns such as the WWF “No Plastic in Nature” by signing petitions and donating.
And this is what we are going to do here at Sinplástico.
This January, instead of joining the sales, we are going to donate 5% of your purchases to the WWF to see the end of ghost nets.
Years ago our cooperative decided to not take part in the traditional sales season, it contributes to thoughtless buying that we do not agree with, and in its place we make a donation to NGOs that are working to protect our planet from plastic pollution.
WWF is one of the most important conservation organisations in the world and they are also one of the most active in the fight against plastic in nature.
By purchasing the plastic-free products you need from our e-shop this month, you will be donating 5% of your purchase to the WWF, so that they can continue working to free our oceans of plastic.
P.S. Did you know about the impact abandoned nets have on our oceans? Is there another topic about which you would like us to investigate? We look forward to hearing your suggestions in the comments.
* WWF Spain.