Ghost gear: a phantom menace

The problem

‘Ghost gear’ – lost or abandoned fishing equipment - is one of the biggest threats to animals in our oceans. A staggering 640,000 tonnes of ghost gear is left in our oceans each year – more than one tonne every minute!

The solution

  • Reduce the amount of ghost gear ending up in our oceans
  • Remove ghost gear from the oceans and find ways to recycle it, and
  • Rescue animals who have become tangled in ghost gear.

What we're doing

We are building a global movement of governments, businesses and members of the public. Together we can increase awareness, change attitudes and find new solutions to this issue.

How is ghost gear affecting animals?

Every year more than 100,000 whales, dolphins, seals and turtles get caught in abandoned or lost fishing nets, lines and traps. Made of durable material, this ghost gear can take up to 600 years to break down. Some nets are bigger than football pitches. If these nets float in the ocean they will continue to endanger animals for years to come.

When animals become tangled in ghost gear, they sometimes drown or starve as they try to escape. Others face longer term suffering as they grow and the lines or nets cut into their bodies. During our work we have seen a wide range of animals threatened by ghost gear:

  • Seabirds make nests with small pieces of netting. They can get entangled which prevents them from flying, nesting and diving.
  • Young seals are curious animals which can lead them to playing with fishing nets. Seals trapped in netting are unable to move as it tightens around their neck or flipper. Find out more about seals who have been rescued.
  • Whales, dolphins and porpoises get entangled and killed as they swim amongst floating ropes, nets and lines.
  • Endangered Leatherback turtles migrate to UK waters in summer to feast on jellyfish. They are at risk of becoming entangled in lost or discarded ropes.

How are we tackling the issue?

Although the threat to animals is clear, the size and origin of ghost gear in UK waters is not understood. This is why we are taking the lead in tackling this phantom menace. By carrying out research and working with partners to bring attention to the issue, we are:

  • The leading charity working to uncover the scale and impact of ghost gear in the UK.
  • Working with the UK Government to identify areas most affected by ghost gear in the UK.
  • Working with companies, organisations and individuals who can stop ghost gear in our seas.
  • Removing ghost gear from UK waters and around the UK coastline.
  • Finding exciting ways to recycle recovered ghost gear.
  • Supporting hands-on rescue work to save animals injured by ghost fishing gear.

What can you do to help?

(Above) Amanda Cotton / Marine Photobank (Top) Alex Mustard / naturepl.com (Bottom, left to right) Michelle de Villiers, Mike Guy/Marine Photobank, NOAA

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