July 25, 2023

Sea-Doo Helps 4ocean
Recover Ghost Nets From
the Florida Keys

Sea-Doo Helps 4ocean Recover Ghost Nets From the Florida Keys

Sea-Doo Helps 4ocean
Recover Ghost Nets From the Florida Keys

Sea-Doo and 4ocean Recover Ghost Nets From the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

Recovering ghost nets from sensitive ecosystems like the seagrass beds of the Florida Keys takes extra special care— and our friends at Sea-Doo had the right tools for the job

Last year during a scouting mission, we discovered what could be millions of pounds of derelict fishing gear, AKA ghost nets, tangled in the mangroves of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. 

Most of the debris we saw was polypropylene rope, which is often used as fishing line because it floats in water and resists rot and mildew when exposed to the elements. But leave any plastic in the environment long enough and it will become weak and brittle as it’s exposed to the sun’s UV rays, weather, and other physical and natural forces.

Polypropylene lines have a lifespan of about 10 years. And as they degrade, they release countless amounts of microplastic into the local environment. And that’s exactly what Tony, our Director of Cleanup Operations, discovered the first time he tried to remove a piece of polypropylene line from the mangroves. As soon as he touched it, it started to disintegrate in his hands.

We removed everything we could reach on that first scouting mission, but we knew right away we’d be coming back for more. Given the marine sanctuary’s protected status and the sensitive seagrass flats surrounding it, the only question was how we were going to get to the areas we couldn’t reach.

We typically use pangas, or small boats, that are equipped with rugged, fuel-efficient engines. These vessels are easy to maneuver in the open ocean and can carry large amounts of debris, which typically makes them the ideal ocean cleanup vessel.

But they have one downfall when it comes to navigating the shallow waters we needed to access: the propeller.

Propellers like these should never be used near shallow seagrass beds because they grind up the sandy substrate and rip up the seagrass, leaving visible scars in the habitat that can take years to heal.

Seagrass meadows are a critical marine habitat that: 

  • Provide food and shelter for countless marine species including manatees and green sea turtles, both of which are endangered
  • Help stabilize the coastline and maintain sediments on the seabed, which can reduce the indirect effects of coastal erosion
  • Combat climate change by absorbing and storing huge amounts of carbon; when seagrass meadows are damaged or degraded, they not only capture less carbon, they actually release significant amounts of greenhouse gases that may have been stored for thousands of years
  • Improve water clarity and quality by capturing organic material, sediments, and nutrients in the water
  • Act as nurseries for many species, including commercially important fish, which promotes biodiversity, improves food security, and strengthens local economies
  • Strip nitrogen and remove chemical elements that cause harmful algae blooms that can cripple local economies and negatively impact human and animal health

Want to learn more about prop scars in nearby Florida Bay? Check out this report from the Department of the Interior.

We’re committed to conducting our operations in a way that has a minimal impact on the local environment. That’s why you usually see our crews using nets or their hands to recover debris.

Since this environment was new to us, we weren’t quite sure what vessels would meet our standards for safety and efficiency. So, of course, we reached out to our friends at Sea-Doo for assistance.

While Sea-Doos are usually synonymous with high-action beach vacations, these personal watercraft vessels were the answer to our shallow-water cleanup dreams.

Powered by impeller-driven waterjets instead of propellers, we could safely use these vessels to access sensitive areas inside the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and reach the enormous accumulations of ghost nets and lines that we’d found there—all without harming the environment.

The Sea-Doo FishPro Sport (pictured above) offers great maneuverability with a solid 600-pound capacity. And while large nets and ropes fit easily behind the operator, we had to get a little crafty and design a containment system that would allow us to transport extremely degraded and crumbly ghost nets as well as any smaller debris so there was no chance of it re-entering the environment.

Drawing on his surfing roots, our co-founder Alex transformed an old tow-in surfing sled into a containment bin that’s easily attached to the FishPro Sport. This device maximizes the efficiency of every cleanup by allowing us to haul an additional 200 pounds of recovered debris. Talk about upcycling!

The modular design of the Sea-Doo Switch Cruise 230 (pictured above) allows us to free up deck space for recovered ghost nets while keeping the weight of the vessel balanced and safe to operate. Even better, this vessel can transport up to 700 pounds of recovered debris!

All of our Sea-Doos are equipped with Garmin ECHOMAP Chartplotters that allow us to track where we’ve cleaned and plot debris accumulations for future cleanups while steering clear of shallow reefs and following seasonal trends.

The result? A Strike Mission Fleet that’s able to access, remove, and transport upwards of 1,500 pounds of ghost nets from this fragile coastal ecosystem on every cleanup!

A portion of the ghost nets we recover are sent to our team of artisans and transformed into products like our Ghost Net Bracelet, which funds the recovery of even more ghost nets and other man-made debris from the world’s oceans, rivers, and coastines.

Anything that’s too degraded to be turned into product is taken to the Solid Waste Authority in West Palm Beach, Florida, where it’s either recycled or transformed into energy that powers homes and businesses throughout our community.

This bracelet is one of my personal favorites because I know firsthand just how much damage they can do to our local marine life, so definitely check it out if you haven’t already.

I also want to give a huge shoutout to our friends at Sea-Doo for making these cleanups possible! Partnerships are absolutely crucial to advancing our mission and driving the clean ocean movement forward.

And while you’re here, I hope you’ll check out another cleanup in Guatemala that’s only possible through your support and another strong partnership.

Josh Liberman

Clean Ocean Warrior  +  Sr. Video Producer

Clean Ocean Warrior  + 
Sr. Video Producer

April 1, 2023

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