Threat of ‘Ghost Netting’ and Marine Debris

Feb 9, 2021 | General Information

An estimated 600,000 tons of abandoned netting gear – ‘ghost nets’ — finds its way into the oceans every year. The United Nations estimates that some 380,000 marine mammals are killed every year by either ingesting or being caught in derelict fishing gear. Such derelict fishing gear is part of a growing worldwide problem of marine debris and a continuous problem for Hawaii.

The lifespan of ‘ghost nets’ is not known. What we do know is that, as long as they float, they continue killing not only fish, but also sea turtles, seabirds and other marine animals. Every year, fishing nets damage large areas of coral reef ecosystems. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands alone collect on average more than 50 tons of fishing nets per year. More than 80 tons of ‘ghost nets’ and other marine debris were removed from this area in 2018.

Tracking ‘ghost nets and other marine debris is a continuous challenge in Hawaii. For example, at the end of 2019 mariners, pilots or people near the ocean were alerted to a massive “ghost net” spotted off Maui. The elusive net was viewed as a threat to visiting humpback whales. The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary engaged in tracking the net. Other nonprofits joined the search. A cargo vessel was asked to be on standby to retrieve the net. The effort was successful but, if not removed, these huge nets of nylon or polypropylene can weigh tons and drift for decades.