How Long Has That Ghost Net Been Drifting?

As part of his PhD at the University of Derby, our founder and CEO, Martin Stelfox, has been exploring different techniques to age drifting ghost nets found in the Maldives.


An unidentified invertebrate found on the surface of a ghost net sample after floating on the surface for four weeks. Image credit: Martin Stelfox

It is not currently known how long nets drift before being stranded or found. If an answer to this question can finally be found, we may be just one step closer to finding out where ghost gear entering the Maldives comes from.

To help answer this question, Martin set on a mission to recruit a team of “ghost busters”, err, well, marine biologists, from around the Maldives: Lisa Bauer at Coco Palm Bodu Hithi, Deborah Burn at Gili Lankafushi, Jenni Choma and Oscar Ignetik from Six Senses – Laamu, Tina Buchegger from Lux South Ari, and Sonia Valladares from Coco Bodu Hithi.

Collectively, they are conducting pilot projects that include: measuring barnacles, measuring changes in mesh-breaking strength at different exposures to sun and UV radiation, and mapping the change in fouling (algae and sponge) communities over time.

A barnacle growing on a plastic bottle after 72 days of floating on the ocean’s surface.
Image credit: Sonia Valladares

Tested and developed further, one of these methods could be a reliable technique to help estimate the age of ghost nets. These estimates can then be plugged into an ocean current modelling program to give us a better understanding of drifting paths, turtle interaction, and possibly an origin of gear loss.