‘Ghost’ fishing gear worst plastic threat to marine creatures

The report warns of the dangers posed to marine life by 'ghost' fishing gear. Picture: Thinkstock
The report warns of the dangers posed to marine life by 'ghost' fishing gear. Picture: Thinkstock

Abandoned fishing gear is the most dangerous type of plastic pollution blighting the world’s oceans, a new report from Greenpeace has found.

The report warns of the dangers posed to marine life by ‘ghost gear’ – fishing equipment that has been lost or dumped at sea, much of which is made of plastic.

Ghost gear is the most deadly type of marine litter because it has been specifically designed to catch and kill sea creatures, which it continues to do years after it has been left behind.

An estimated 640,000 tonnes of ghost gear enters the oceans each year. It makes up 10 per cent of all plastic waste in the marine environment and takes hundreds of years to break down.

Fishing nets account for 86 per cent of the megaplastics found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, but the problem is widespread.

Environmentalists says urgent action is needed to tackle the problem and clean up the seas.

They are calling for the United Nations to agree an ambitious Global Ocean Treaty by spring 2020, to facilitate the creation of a worldwide network of protected areas covering 30 per cent of the world’s ocean by 2030.

Louisa Casson, an oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: “Ghost gear is a major source of ocean plastic pollution and it affects marine life in the UK as much as anywhere else.

“Just this month, a pregnant whale was discovered tangled in ghost gear in Orkney, and seabirds on Mullion Island, a seabird sanctuary, were found to have been ingesting ghost gear. The UK’s waters do not exist in a vacuum, as oceans have no borders.

“The world’s governments must take action to protect our global oceans and hold the under-regulated fishing industry to account for its dangerous waste.”

The report shows a significant proportion of fishing gear remains as pollution at sea after use but is expensive, challenging and dangerous to clean up.

Volunteers from the environmental group Ghost Fishing UK carry out regular clean-up operations around the country in a bid to retrieve nets, ropes, creels and other litter.

Last year a team of 30 divers descended on the wrecks of sunken First World War battleships at Scapa Flow in Orkney, spending six days removing accumulated debris.