4,700 Pounds of Ghost Gear Collected From Gulf of Maine

One lost net can kill about 500,000 invertebrates, 1,700 fish, and 4 seabirds.

Ghost gear collected in Maine

Ocean Conservancy

There were lobster traps and ropes, buoys, and dock foam. Nearly 5,000 pounds of fishing items—known as ghost gear—were removed from around Maine on a recent cleanup.

The lost and abandoned gear was collected during a four-day sailing trip in late June by the Ocean Conservancy and the Rozalia Project. The Ocean Conservancy works to protect the ocean and the wildlife and people who depend on it. The Rozalia Project is dedicated to removing trash from waterways.

The team removed 4,723 pounds of gear and other debris from remote islands in the area. The garbage haul included 4,220 pounds of traps, 530 pounds of rope, 52 pounds of dock foam, and 35 pounds of buoys. There were also bleach bottles, oil bottles, and plastic drink bottles.

Chris Dorsett, vice president of conservation at Ocean Conservancy, talked to Treehugger about the expedition and the dangers of all this marine debris.

Treehugger: How destructive is ghost gear and why?

Chris Dorsett: Ghost gear—or abandoned, lost, or otherwise discarded fishing gear (ALDFG)—is both the most harmful form of marine debris and one of the most significant contributors to ocean plastics. A single abandoned net is estimated to kill an average of 500,000 marine invertebrates (think crabs and shrimp), 1,700 fish, and four seabirds. Some estimates show that as much as a 30% decline in fish stocks can be attributed to ghost gear. 

Were you surprised at how much was collected?

We knew going into it that there was a huge need for the cleanup, but it was truly eye-opening to see for yourself how some of these remote islands are piled high with washed-up fishing gear and other debris.

Volunteers cleaning up ghost gear in Maine

Ocean Conservancy

How important are concerted trash removal efforts like these?

At Ocean Conservancy, we believe that it’s critical to tackle the ghost gear problem from all angles, and that means apart from removal activities we are also working on the prevention and mitigation of ghost gear. We have been hosting workshops for local fishers, been supporting local recycling initiatives, undertaken hotspot mapping efforts to understand why and where gear is being lost or accumulating, and continued to raise awareness on new technologies that can prevent gear loss. 

We must reduce the amount of debris in the environment and prevent it from further harming ocean life, and cleanups like these, together with prevention work and education, are critical to that aim.

How much of a team effort is it?

This project was months in the making and required the collaboration of several organizations and the local community. With support from NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], Ocean Conservancy’s Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) worked with the Rozalia Project to find a location for the cleanup, connect with local partners like the Maine Island Trail Association, and manage the complicated logistics of a remote island cleanup.  We were heartened to see local communities come together to support this work.

What happens to the items you collect?

We try to recycle as many items as possible from our gear and trash removals. In this case, for example, we worked with Rowlands Recycling in Steuben, Maine, to recycle the metal from the traps we collected, and they will be recycled into light iron. We also delivered reusable fishing gear to local fishers.

Volunteers cleaning up ghost gear on shore

Ocean Conservancy

How often do you do these cleanups and where do you do them?

The GGGI hosts a handful of gear removals with local partners throughout the year all across the world. While we are working to facilitate more and more of these removals, they are highly technical and difficult events to plan. This cleanup alone required access to a remote privately owned island, rental of a large commercial dumpster, and a tremendous amount of equipment and manpower. That’s why it’s so important that we work with local organizations, like the Rozalia Project, who know the communities and terrain we’re working with.

For over 35 years, Ocean Conservancy has also mobilized volunteers around the world for our annual International Coastal Cleanup (ICC). Since its beginning, more than 17 million volunteers have collected more than 348 million pounds of trash from beaches and waterways.

How big of a problem is ocean pollution in general and is getting better or worse?

Plastic pollution is one of the biggest threats facing our ocean today. By some estimates, about 11 million metric tons of plastics enter the ocean each year. That’s why at Ocean Conservancy, we’re tackling this issue from all angles—from prevention and removal projects to working with the private sector and governments to inform best practices and policy change. In recent years, we have seen a huge shift towards more awareness and recognition of the plastic pollution crisis and a willingness to work together to solve it. Even just last month, California passed a landmark piece of legislation to address plastic pollution and the United Nations is working to create an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution. We are excited to see these changes and hopeful that we are moving in the right direction.

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  1. https://oceanconservancy.org/news/video-photos-4700-pounds-trash-removed-gulf-maine-sailing-expedition-ocean-conservancy-rozalia-project/