The Invisible
And Silent

Mikaela Walsh, 4ocean Research Analyst

Abandoned fishing gear has deadly effects on marine life across the globe. Learn more about ghost nets here.

Invisible, silent fishermen roam the ocean waters and are continuing to increase! What are these? Ghost nets! A ghost net is abandoned fishing gear that is floating in the ocean. These nets are exceedingly difficult to identify for animals and humans. The nets, when abandoned, catch all forms of marine life and pollution debris. Not only can they have harmful, often deadly effects to the animals; they also play a huge role in the oceanic plastic crisis that is occurring across the global waters. The great pacific garbage patch is estimated to be composed of roughly 46% of abandoned fishing gear. This is an astronomical concern because the miscellaneous plastic debris contained in the patch has formed enormous structures due to the entanglement of the abandoned fishing gear. Therefore, eliminating it becomes an immense challenge, exacerbated by the geographical positioning of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch situated in the heart of the Pacific Ocean.


The great pacific garbage patch has detrimental effects in our ocean. Not only because of the breakdown of the plastic debris into countless indestructible microplastic pieces, but also these nets entangle animals and prevent the animal from reaching the surface of the water or escaping the chaos of the nets. The great pacific garbage patch is a major issue worldwide that many conservation specialists are trying to address, but how and why do these nets end up in our ocean? These nets end up in the ocean from a number of different ways, either on accident or on purpose. Quite possibly, an accidental problem includes a net getting trapped on the bottom of the ocean, attached to coral or rocks. 

Another accident could include rough waters, and the nets are washed away from the boat by large, strong waves. However, sometimes fishing gear is abandoned on purpose. For instance, nets are occasionally disposed of into the ocean when they are no longer necessary to save space on boats, or if they tear and lose their functionality. While many fishermen adhere to the regulations and refrain from discarding nets from their vessels. Nonetheless, this is an current and immediate issue of nets being illegally discarded from the boats. Ghost nets pose a massive issue in all diverse marine environments.


Plastic debris ingestion is affecting all different sea birds across the globe. Even in remote areas, such as the Galapagos islands or the Arctic, sea birds are being found with plastic ingestion. Despite the difficult task of monitoring wildlife in remote areas, researchers have found that in the arctic, over half the birds were found with evidence of plastic ingestion, despite little human inhabits. This is concerning because the animals in the arctic are hard to examine due to the frigid temperatures and habitable space. The plastic debris is carried throughout the ocean currents and reaches the frigid arctic. Another remote location that has been shown to face the impacts of the oceanic plastic crisis is the Galapagos islands. These islands are in the middle of the pacific ocean with virtually no human intervention. Over 97% of the galapagos are reserved for conservation and marine life is still ingesting plastic debris in these areas.


Plastic pollution has detrimental effects on all forms of life, but it is disastrous for a filter feeder.

Ghost nets have been found across the globe and one of the most pressing issues of this matter is their ability to entrap animals without any warning. An animal that is often affected by entanglement of abandoned fishing gear are sea birds, who live along the coast and primarily find their food source on the surface of the ocean. In California, researchers examined six counties along the coastline over a twenty year period and recorded 354 entanglements, 97% of which were sea birds. A large amount of the entanglement material was monofilament fishing lines (which can include hooks and lures). This is concerning because the fishing line is typically thin and transparent, making it difficult for birds to detect until it’s too late. Sea birds are extremely beneficial to the oceans ecosystem as they circle nutrients between the aquatic and marine environment.


Many other organisms face the consequences of entanglement throughout the aquatic environment. Sea turtles are slow moving animals that have 4 flippers to guide them though the oceans currents. Many times, sea turtles will get abandoned nets or fishing lines wrapped around their limbs or even neck causing human intervention; leading to possible rehabilitation and surgical measures including amputations. These sea turtles also are at risk of ingesting fishing lines and many times are found with fishing gear in their stomachs. Fishing fear and hooks can be found stuck in the turtle's intestines and cause tears in the esophagus and intestinal tract. Entanglement in ghost nets poses a threat to various marine species, potentially resulting in fatal outcomes.


Abandoned fishing gear has harmful effects on marine life in the ocean. Winter, the dolphin, is a famous animal that was rescued with her tail caught in an abandoned crab net which led to her tail having to get amputated. She then stayed in captivity the remainder of her life and used a prosthetic tail that was able to help her swim like a normal dolphin. This is the most well known animal entrapment story due to a movie being released about Winters life and raising awareness of the impacts of abandoned fishing gear. The sad thing is, this is not the only animal that gets affected by floating nets or discarded cages. All types of marine mammals, reptiles, and fish get trapped and caught in this misuse of fishing behavior causing the animal to suffer many consequences. Luckily, Winter was found in just the right time to where she was able to live and get rehabilitated but sadly this is not the case most of the time. Ocean animals will glide through the open waters of the ocean and suddenly get entangled in lost fishing gear causing devastating effects.


Fishing is beneficial to human life in many ways and is an incredible food source but improper fishing habits have harmful effects on marine life. Ensuring fishing gear makes it back onto the boat is crucial for marine life and endangered species. Ghost nets catch any and all creatures that have an encounter with them. Abandoned fishing gear, including lines, nets, and traps pose a serious risk for sea birds, marine reptiles, and marine mammals across the globe. As animals get stuck and trapped in, more animals will be attracted to ghost nets and continue to get stuck. This causes an attraction to the nets which in turn becomes a cycle of animals stuck. Removing abandoned fishing gear when it is seen is essential to ensure the safety of animals. 4ocean teams successfully removed just under 1,000 pounds of ghost nets from the Florida Keys this month to help alleviate effects of this ongoing issue.


Ghost Net Bracelet Collection

The Ghost Net Bracelet inspires those who believe in an unshackled ocean where giant whales and tiny fish can swim freely and safely in their home.

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Photo: GregBrave

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