The Problem With Ghost Nets
Ghost nets are nets that have been discarded, abandoned or lost in the ocean. The detrimental effects of ghost nets can be felt far from their point of origin; they can float in ocean currents for years or decades, traveling huge distances. These nets can continue to entangle marine animals including turtles, birds, sharks, rays, dugongs, dolphins, and whales long after they have enter the ocean in a process called “ghost fishing”.
Entanglement can lead to exhaustion, suffocation, starvation, amputations of limbs, and, eventually, death of a marine animal. Separation from family members can continue to effect marine mammals, such as dolphins, even after they have been disentangled, due to their complex social structures. Dead animals can act as bait, attracting predators, such as sharks, which may themselves become entangled.
Other effects of ghost nets include:
- Smothering or fouling of coral reefs;
- Introduction of invasive species or disease;
- Financial loss for marine business due to lost fishing gear, unharvested catches, and damage to boats;
- Financial loss for the tourism and diving industry due to reduced aesthetic appeal of beaches, reefs, or shorelines and a decline in marine life.
Nets can be lost for a variety of reasons, including:
- Unfavourable weather conditions;
- Catch overload;
- Snagging on the bottom;
- Poor gear maintenance;
- High cost of retrieval;
- Fishery conflicts or vandalism;
- Poor or no access to disposal or recycling facilities;
- Illegal or unregulated fishing activities.
Further research is ongoing in order to better understand why ghost nets end up in the ocean. Results from these investigations will help to amend net or gear designs and influence fishing legislation. Marine fishing is vital in providing communities around the world with protein and a source of income. The aim of the Olive Ridley Project is to work with fisheries in order to help prevent ghost nets from entering in the Indian Ocean.
The Olive Ridley Project, in cooperation with our volunteers, have documented the entanglement of more than 185 sea turtles and removed over 120 ghost nets from Maldivian waters (as of February 2015).
Through our research, we are still searching for the answers to the following questions:
- What is/are the major source(s) for the nets we find in the Maldives?
- How long can ghost nets remain in the oceans?
- Why are Olive Ridley sea turtles at such a risk? Why do we so often see juvenile turtles in nets?
- What breeding population are these turtles from?
- Do turtles survive long term after being released from a ghost net?
- How can we prevent these nets from entering the Indian Ocean?
- How can global consumers help mitigate this problem?
- How can we recycle or reuse the ghost nets that we find?
Click on the picture to watch a documentary on the problem of ghost nets: