Deadly to marine life, fishing gear either lost or abandoned by crews represent the majority of the plastic pollution in the oceans, according to a new report by Greenpeace, which draws on the most up-to-date research on “ghost gear” polluting the oceans.
The NGO said more than 640,000 tonnes of nets, lines, pots, and traps used in commercial fishing are dumped and discarded in the sea every year, the same weight as 55,000 double-decker buses.
The new data should be a push to international action to stop plastic pollution deadly to wildlife, Greenpeace said. One of the most recent examples is the death of 300 sea turtles last year due to the entanglement in ghost gear off the coast of Oaxaca, Mexico.
Louisa Casson, an oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, told The Guardian: “Ghost gear is a major source of ocean plastic pollution and it affects marine life in the UK as much as anywhere else. The world’s governments must take action to protect our global oceans.”
Nets and lines can pose a threat to wildlife for years or decades, ensnaring everything from small fish and crustaceans to endangered turtles, seabirds and even whales, according to the report. Lost and discarded fishing gear is now drifting to Arctic coastlines, washing up on remote Pacific islands.
Up to 10% of ocean plastic pollution is made up by ghost gear, which forms the majority of large plastic littering the waters. One study found that as much as 70% (by weight) of microplastics (in excess of 20cm) found floating on the surface of the ocean was fishing related.
At the same time, a recent study of the “great Pacific garbage patch”, an area of plastic accumulation in the north Pacific, estimated that it contained 42,000 tonnes of megaplastics, of which 86% was fishing nets.
Greenpeace said ghost gear was particularly prevalent from illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, but overcrowded fisheries also contributed to the problem. “Poor regulation and slow political progress in creating ocean sanctuaries that are off-limits to industrial fishing allow this problem to exist and persist,” the report said.
As a solution to the current problematic, Greenpeace is calling for the UN treaty to provide a comprehensive framework for marine protection, paving the way for a global network of ocean sanctuaries covering 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030.