Seeing as we are so close to Halloween I want to tell you about a real ghost story; about a serial killer that strikes time and time again. We don’t fully know the impact, but what we do know is that this silent killer causes strangulation, suffocation and dismemberment. Year after year hundreds of souls are washed up and found in our oceans, seriously harmed or killed because of Ghost Nets!
Ghost nets are fishing gear that has been lost at sea. Fishing line takes up to 600 years to degrade and in this time can travel vast distances around the globe. The FAO estimates that one-tenth of all marine litter is lost or discarded fishing gear—equalling 640,000 tonnes annually. These marine plastics have horrific consequences on many marine species. Ghost nets travel along with the currents and catch marine wildlife and other debris found along the way. This causes them to become heavy and sink to the depths of the ocean. Once down they don’t stay on the ocean floor for long, as bottom dwellers will feed on the decomposing wildlife reducing the weight of the net. Once it becomes buoyant again it can be taken back up by ocean currents to continue this deadly cycle.
Most marine species are impacted by Ghost Nets, as trap and kill wildlife including sharks, turtles, dolphins, whales, rays, fish and birds. These nets even threaten reefs, by entangling coral and possibly introducing non-native species into these vulnerable ecosystems. Once entangled in coral the currents will cause the net to sweep through the ecosystem, often leafing a wasteland of damage and despair.
When an animal becomes ensnared by a ghost net the impacts include exhaustion, suffocation, starvation, amputation of limbs and even death. As more and more species get caught in nets, curiosity and predation will lead to other species such as dolphins and sharks getting caught in these deadly entrapments. So there is a snowballing effect in that when a fish becomes entangled it acts as bait for larger marine predators, which often become entangled too!
The key causes of Ghost Nets in the Indian Ocean include bad weather conditions, catch overload, nets snagging on the seabed, poor gear maintenance, high cost of net retrieval, fishery conflicts or vandalism, poor recycling or disposal facilities, illegal and destructive fishing.
We need to keep our oceans safe by reducing the amount of gear lost at sea and supporting programmes such as the Ghost Fishing Foundation, where groups of scuba divers aim to find and reduce abandoned fishing gear in the Oceans.
Let’s try to make our marine environments safe by removing plastic and debris when we find any! So when swimming in any of the worlds oceans, look out for the most lethal killer – Ghost Nets!
Make sure you share this tale with your friends and family in hopes to keep our oceans safe.
By Alexia Hemming