Marine debris and plastic is on the rise, and has rightly garnered a huge amount of press coverage in recent years. It is estimated that 19-23 million tonnes of debris entered the ocean in 2016 and this could rise to 53 million tonnes a year by 2030! Whilst all marine debris has the potential to entangle or trap wildlife, not all marine debris is equal; Fishing gear is designed to catch and trap, and so when it is lost and becomes “ghost gear”, it can be particularly harmful.
A 2009 study suggests that up to 10% of all the plastic in our oceans is ghost gear, but it represents a much higher proportion of large plastic found floating on the surface. During the Henderson Island Expedition, ghost gear accounted for 60% of all items when weighed, and recent research suggests that once it breaks down it leads to increased levels of micro and nano plastics in the environment.
The oceans are an important resource. They provide the primary source of protein for up to 4 billion people and it is estimated that 350 million jobs are linked to the oceans globally. Ghost gear competes with fishers for their catch. Simply put, the more ghost gear there is the fewer fish there are for everyone else.