Annual Photo Contest Reveals Dangers of Ghost Nets

©. Douglas Croft/Ocean Conservancy

Distressing photos received by the Ocean Conservancy show just how helpless marine animals are in the face of drifting nets.

When the Ocean Conservancy put out the call for contributions to its annual photo contest, it received the usual stunning scenes of marine wildlife, intricate reefs, and confounding camouflage. But there also came a host of photos documenting the tremendous damage inflicted by ghost nets. These are fishing nets that have been lost or discarded in the ocean, left to drift for years while continuing to capture animals.

While it is difficult to know just how much 'ghost gear' enters the world's oceans every year, the amount is estimated to be around 800,000 tons. The majority of fishing gear is made from plastic or other synthetic materials; it does not biodegrade, and continues to pose as much of a threat to wildlife in its 'ghost' form as it did while being used by a fishing fleet. Ghost nets also damage delicate coral reefs, amass other plastic debris, and pose a risk to ships.

Once tangled up in a net, it's pretty near impossible for a marine animal to escape. The Ocean Conservancy's photos depict these heartbreaking scenes – a parrot fish, a spider crab, and a seal, all photographed entangled in lost fishing nets.

There are some efforts to recapture ghost nets. Volunteers gathered earlier this summer for a 25-day cleanup of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which resulted in the collection of 40 tons of waste, including one net that weighed 5 tons alone. Some innovative companies, such as Bureo, are paying fishermen to collect ghost nets and sell them for upcycling into new products.

Awareness is the first step toward activism and effecting real change, which is why looking at these photos is important for all of us. May it inspire you to take action against ocean plastic pollution.

entangled fish in net

© Morgan Bennett/Ocean Conservancy

turtle tangled in net

© Morgan Bennett/Ocean Conservancy

shark with plastic in its mouth

© Ron Watkins/Ocean Conservancy

spider crab ghost net

© Chris Bush/Ocean Conservancy