Cities and businesses are taking steps to cut back on plastic straws and other single-use plastics, but a lesser-known source of ocean plastic pollution, lost, and abandoned fishing gear, is causing even more damage to underwater ecosystems, HuffPost reports.
Plastic straws make up less than 1% of plastic waste in the world's oceans, whereas "ghost gear" — unattended plastic nets, lines, and traps — account for an estimated 10%. It's estimated that commercial fishing boats leave behind more than 700,000 tons plastic waste each year.
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Piece of ghost gear like abandoned nets are "floating death traps" that continue to catch fish and other sea creatures in a phenomenon called "ghost fishing." An estimated 30 to 40 marine animals can fall victim to just one of these unattended nets, and over 100,000 large whales, sea lions, and seals are killed every year by them.
Ghost fishing has serious consequences for marine animals, while also posing a significant economic threat to communities that depend on fishing for their livelihoods. As fishing stocks are depleted — by an estimated 5% to 30% in some areas — more nets are used, which creates a positive feedback loop of damage to local ecosystems.
Healthy Seas, a global initiative that removes plastic waste from the oceans and recycles it into textile products, is addressing the issue of ghost gear head on.
On Oct. 8, a team of Healthy Seas' volunteers recovered a three ton, 650-foot long ghost net off the coast of the Aeolian Islands, near Sicily. The effort was sponsored by Aquafil, an Italian company that plans to recycle the net into Econyl, a type of regenerated nylon.
While we ban plastic straws, there's a much bigger #ocean#plastic#pollution crisis we're ignoring. https://t.co/IN5SEB0oc3? #ghostgear#ghostfishing#ghostnets#healthyseas@healthyseas_org@HuffPost@ECONYLpic.twitter.com/7VNn0vCmyd— Ghost Fishing (@ghostfishing) October 24, 2018
"There is no reason for ghost nets," Giulio Bonazzi, CEO of Aquafil told HuffPost. "We should be able to recycle 100% of nets. We have the capacity; we have the technology."
Around the world, many grassroots organizations are taking up the issue of ghost gear and finding innovative ways to recover and repurpose fishing nets.
In the Philippines, communities are collaborating with NetWorks, a London-based conservation team, to transform discarded fishing nets into carpets, National Geographic reports.
Read More: Plastic Straws Will Soon Be Illegal in San Francisco
In India, fishermen are also turning the problem of ocean plastic waste into an opportunity for recycling and innovation, National Geographic reports. By using litter to create roads, they're tackling infrastructural needs while cleaning nearby water bodies.
The pioneering wildlife advocates at the World Animal Protection have led efforts to reduce ghost gear and the suffering it causes through their Sea Change campaign, which set out to save one million animals by 2018. The organization also calls for tagging all commercial gear by 2025 in order to hold fishing fleets accountable for their waste.
There needs to be a global registry of fishing gear. When the fishing communities buy their nets, it is logged and registered, and at the end of the useful life of the gear, they are responsible for returning it for recycling,â€ Bonazzi of Aquafil told the Huffington Post.