Senior Editor
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The Inertia

Unless you’re blind, you’ve seen photos of effects of the garbage we throw into the sea. Turtles with straws jammed up their noses, birds, whales, and fish stuffed with bits of plastic, etc. “Someone should DO something about that,” we think, drinking through our plastic straws and surrounded by plastic products. “It’s just so sad!” But guess what? There’s even more to feel bad about! According to a new report by World Animal Protection, we drop somewhere around 700,000 tons of fishing gear into the ocean every year, which is arguably the worst kind of plastic pollution.

The so-called “ghost gear” is largely responsible for those pictures you see of turtles, baby dolphins, and other cute, sad things all wrapped up in fishing nets. Hell, even whales find themselves stuck in a net meant for much smaller fish.

World Animal Protection’s report, entitled Ghosts Beneath the Waves, says that ghost gear is the most harmful of all the plastics in the sea. “Our oceans are nearing a tipping point and plastic waste is one of the greatest threats to them,” writes Didier Reynders, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Affairs for the Government of Belgium. “Large numbers of plastic bottles and bags float around the earth but there is another, lesser-known, man-made killer plastic lurking in our oceans. Fishing gear is designed to catch and kill marine life, and ‘ghost gear’—abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear—is the most harmful form of marine debris for animals.”

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According to the numbers in the report, Reynders is right. Just look at a few of these stats from it:

• In just one deepwater fishery in the northeast Atlantic, some 25,000 nets have been recorded lost or discarded annually.

• Almost 5000 derelict nets removed from Puget Sound through retrieval programs were entangling over 3.5 million marine animals annually, including 1300 marine mammals, 25,000 birds, and 100,000 fish.

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• Derelict fish traps near Oman are estimated to cause marine mortalities between 57 kg per trap in a three-month period alone. One study estimates over 15,000 traps lost within this study area every year.

• At current fishing levels, over the next 60 years in the Florida Keys alone, a staggering 11 million traps could become lost.

As you kn0w, we rely on the ocean for our existence. Without it, we’d be… well, we wouldn’t be. But because we are human beings, that, of course, doesn’t stop us from trying our very hardest to ruin it. Our largest garbage dump is also the lifeblood of our very existence. The ocean provides us with food, plays a large part in controlling our weather, and ocean-based businesses contribute more than $500 billion to the world’s economy.

So what is one to do about the issue of ghost gear? Well, for the most part, commercial fishing outfits don’t do anything about it. They’re like that guy that sits in a parking lot, rolls down his window, and dumps his garbage out beside the garbage can, only on a much larger scale. That’s why the World Animal Protection started the Global Ghost Gear Initiative, a program that retrieves and recycles ghost gear, among other things, because ghost gear is responsible for horrible shit.

And so far, it seems to be working—but it needs to scale up. “In Rehmangoth, Pakistan, local divers have recovered and recycled gear,” the reports says. “In so doing [they] are raising over 92% of a typical month’s fishing income. Funds are being used to refurbish a community center. Other scalable, replicable projects include those in the Gulf of Maine, USA; Alaska, USA; Indonesia; and Vanuatu.”

World Animal Protection achieve their goals in four simple ways, which they’re calling the 4 Rs:

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Clearly, though, cleaning up the giant mess we’ve made in the ocean is no small task—especially when one considers that we’re still vomiting vast amounts of trash into it every day. But World Animal Protection’s outlook is positive, just as long as a few things happen. “We believe that reversing the impacts of ghost gear is not only essential, but it is also achievable,” they write. “Co-operation between industry, governments and non-governmental organizations can be a powerful force for change. It’s critical that we truly harness it before it’s too late. Our oceans, and the animals in them, deserve no less.”

See more from World Animal Protection on their website, Facebook, and Instagram

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