Insights into Editorial: Unclogging our oceans

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Insights into Editorial: Unclogging our oceans


Introduction: What is Ghost Gear?

Ghost gear is the waste left from fishing activities that now floats in our oceans and has the potential to entangle or kill the animals that live there. It is estimated in fact that for each piece of ghost gear six animals are harmed.

Animals of all sizes, from whales to the endangered Loggerhead and Leatherback sea turtles, to small fish like the Brook Trout, run the risk of being entangled, injured and even killed every day.

Recently, In March 2018, fishermen hauled 400 kg of fishing nets out of the sea in a few locations off Kerala’s south coast.

There are many such reports of divers regularly making underwater trips just to extract nets that have sunk to the ocean floor off India’s coasts, ranging from Tamil Nadu to Maharashtra.

The problem of ghost gear (any fishing equipment that has been lost, discarded or abandoned in water bodies) has grown from fishing fallout that people had not heard of to one that is now difficult to ignore.

 

Global statistics and topics:

  • 10% of all ocean garbage/marine debris is from ghost gear
  • More than 640,000 tons of ghost gear is left in our oceans each year.
  • More than 136,000 seals, dolphins, whales, turtles and other sea animals get trapped/entangled in ghost gear each year.
  • Ghost gear can take up to 600 years to decompose.
  • Most of this gear is made of plastics that can take centuries to degrade – and adds to marine plastics

 

Consequences of marine debris:

Globally every year, more than 100,00 whales, dolphins, seals and turtles are caught in ‘ghost gear’ as abandoned, lost and discarded fishing nets, lines and traps which can take up to 600 years to decompose.

The vast majority of this gear is made of plastics that take centuries to degrade. Animals caught in this incredibly durable fishing gear then suffer a prolonged and painful death, usually suffocating or starving to death over a number of months.

Between 2011 and 2018 alone, the Olive Ridley Project, a U.K. registered charity that removes ghost nets and protects sea turtles, recorded 601 sea turtles being entangled in ghost gear near the Maldives, of which 528 were Olive Ridleys  the same species that come in thousands to Odisha’s coasts to nest.

A team of marine biologists reviewed on ghost gear from across the world, they found that over 5,400 marine animals belonging to 40 different species were recorded as entangled in ghost gear, or associated with it.

This analysis also showed a huge gap in data from the Indian, Southern and Arctic Oceans, prompting the team to recommend that future studies focus on these areas.

 

Global Initiatives to control Ghost Gears:

To tackle this global issue, World Animal Protection founded the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI), a cross-sectoral alliance committed to driving solutions to the problem of ghost gear worldwide.

The GGGI works to build evidence, develop best practices and inform policies, and catalyze solutions.

Last year the GGGI supported a project to remove old crab traps in McIntyre Bay, British Columbia and launched a Best Practice Framework for the seafood industry and other stakeholders to prevent and mitigate the impacts of lost fishing gear and marine litter.

 

The GGGI’s strength lies in the diversity of its participants including governments, NGO’s, academics and fishing industry leaders with the goal of reducing the amount of ghost gear in the oceans.

“The Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) has more than 80 industry participants who are driving solutions to the problem of lost and abandoned fishing gear, from removing gear from our oceans to converting recycled nets to skateboards and swimwear.

The GGGI is a platform where governments and other stakeholders come together to improve the health of marine ecosystems, protect marine animals from harm and safeguard human health and livelihoods.”

 

Indian initiative to control Ghost Gear:

Scientists at Kochi’s Indian Council of Agricultural Research­Central Institute of Fisheries Technology studied ghost nets in Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

According to the scientists, the government is also currently preparing a national ghost net management policy.

While that would be an extremely welcome and timely move to tackle the growing ghost gear phenomenon, a larger question remains.

When bigger violations, such as large vessels fishing where they are not supposed to, are not checked, there is less possibility that a policy on the management of ghost nets would be implemented.

 

Conclusion:

The level of ghost gear has increased in recent years and is likely to grow further as fishing efforts intensify, creating wide-ranging problems for the marine environment and costing governments millions of dollars in clean-up expenses.

India can emulate innovative solutions from across the world to tackle the problem of ghost gear.

More efforts to make the process more organised across the over 7,500 km of India’s coasts, as well as inland water bodies, are the need of the hour.

 

Way Forward:

  • Avoid single-use plastics – any form of plastic, no matter how small, can cause harm and suffering to marine life like birds, fish and turtles when they eat it or become entangled in it. Bring your own grocery bags, carry a reusable water bottle and skip the straw.

 

  • Cut looped plastics – anything that forms a circle, like 6-pack beverage rings, plastic bag handles or packing straps from shipping boxes pose a threat to curious birds, seals and sea lions who can become entangled.

 

  • Pick up 5 items of trash every time you go to the beach or shore – if we got a chance to visit a beach or lake, pay back the favour and keep trash out of the bellies of seabirds.

 

  • Don’t release balloons – after fishing gear, the most common material found entangled on marine life is balloons, especially those released in bunches!

 

  • Report it if you see an entangled animal or lost fishing gear – A global network is ready to help. Contact the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to report an entangled animal.

No matter where you live, we all have a responsibility to look after our precious ocean life.