Our products like the Bracenets and dog leashes are made out of ghost nets as well as end-of-life fishing nets. But what are ghost nets, why are they a problem and why do we use them to create new products? In this article, we will answer these questions in five points. This will help you to understand the story behind your product even better and to inform your friends and family about the topic.
1. What are ghost nets and why do they pose a problem?
Ghost nets are fishing nets that were lost at sea or deliberately thrown overboard. Even though they no longer serve a purpose, they continue haunting our oceans as they keep fishing without end. It sounds scary, and it is scary indeed: they pose an immense danger to all marine animals. Every year, several million creatures get caught in these free-floating nets. You can find countless frightening photos on the web of fish and marine mammals such as seals, whales, dolphins or sea turtles that have become entangled in ghost nets and can no longer free themselves without human help. Furthermore, they are increasingly becoming a threat to land animals which can get entangled in nets that are washed ashore
According to recent studies, ghost nets account for 30 to 50 per cent of all plastic waste in the oceans. 46 % of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch northeast of Hawaii, for instance, consists of old fishing nets. This is an almost unimaginable size, as this vortex alone is more than four times the size of Germany and consists of more than 80,000 tons of plastic.
2. How do ghost nets get into our seas?
Ghost nets end up in our oceans due to the practices of the fishing industry. They enter our oceans through a number of different routes:
- Illegal fishing:
Apart from official fishing, illegal fishing is a notable driver of ghost nets.
- If an illegal fishing vessel is in danger of being caught, nets may be cut off or thrown overboard.
- Economic causes:
While a large part of the fishing industry is very diligent with the use of their nets and nets are only accidentally lost or forgotten, there are also cases where profit greed drives the nets into the water.
- Proper disposal of discarded fishing nets can be very costly and some fisheries are not able to afford it. Dumping nets into the sea may be their preferred alternative.
- When a particularly good catch is made but the boat is full, it can happen that nets are thrown overboard to make room for the catch.
- When repairing nets on bord, cut out net pieces may end up at sea
- Environmental influences:
Fishing nets are often unintentionally lost due to external influences and become ghost nets. For example …
- … trawl nets towed behind a boat may get caught on corals, wrecks or other obstacles and tear off.
- … trammel nets that are firmly anchored to the bottom of the sea can be torn out of their mounts and drifted away by the current in a strong storm.
- … nets may go overboard in the event of an accident at sea.
3. What’s plastic will always be plastic
For centuries, natural materials such as hemp, sisal or linen were used to create fishing gear. Only for the past four decades have plastic nets been used in the worldwide fishing industry. Due to the nature of the material, however, plastic nets remain a danger to our oceans as ghost nets for several centuries to come.
Over a period of about 400-600 years, these nets decompose into microplastics. These tiny parts of plastic have already been detected in many species of fish, crustaceans, mussels and mammals. Long-term studies are currently investigating the effects of microplastics on the animals, but also on us humans who, for example, consume the affected fish.
4. The fight against ghost nets
It’s about time to remove ghost nets from our oceans and, if possible, give them a new life. First efforts are encouraging: thin nylon gill nets are spun back into yarn, and thick trawl nets can be melted down into pellets. For instance, the yarns can be used in bikinis, sportswear or backpacks and the pellets can be processed into mobile phone covers or skateboards.
We are also fighting the problem! Together with our partners Healthy Seas, Ghost Diving and Nofir we retrieve the nets from the water. Ghost nets often get caught deep in the sea on rocks, corals and old shipwrecks. Our experienced divers are out on diving missions every weekend, often on dangerous recovery operations worldwide.
After recovery, the nets are cleaned and then turned into Bracenets by hand. So far, we have processed almost 7 tons of net into Bracenets and generated a donation value of over 190,000 € for our partners Healthy Seas, Ghost Diving and other great organisations like Sea Shepherd and Shark Allies. These donations will subsequently finance further diving missions to recover ghost nets.
In addition, we don’t only fight the symptoms of ghost nets but also their causes. We cooperate with communities and fishing companies in coastal regions, by directing their old nets to us and thus preventing further discarded nets from haunting the seas.
5. This is what you can do against ghost nets
- Assess your own fish consumption. Where and how is the fish caught that lands on your plate? Do fisheries take care to protect the environment and fish stocks? WWF’s seafood guides are a great place to start your own research.
- Talk about the issue! We have often experienced that bracenet is a good conversation starter. Many people do not know the problem yet.
- Donate to projects that are dedicated to the fight against ghost nets. Our partners Healthy Seas and Ghostdiving depend solely on donations. Every donation helps to finance new rescue trips or preventive measures. Moreover, with the purchase of our products, you also donate to Healthy Seas.
- You see nets? Pick them up! Maybe we can even do something with it. We have a platform you can use to forward them to us. → https://bracenet.net/netquarter/
Overall, ghost nets are a problem but there are promising and successful efforts to address the issue. More and more people are talking about it, journalists are writing about the topic and even politicians are slowly becoming aware of ghost nets. You too can contribute to the fight against ghost nets – and if we all pull in the same direction, we can make a big difference!