Plastic straws, balloons, bottle caps, bags – we've all become familiar with the images of marine debris and the beaches strewn with plastic waste that has washed up on shore. But what about fishing nets?
Last year, a group of oceanographers surveyed the contents of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch for the first time. They found that an estimated 46% of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is from discarded fishing nets – more than twice what had been expected. The team had initially thought fishing gear would be more in the 20% range, which is the accepted number for marine debris globally. The assumption was 20% of waste came from fishing sources and 80% from land. That assumption has now gone overboard, as it were.
Abandoned or discarded fishing nets are killers in their own right, notorious for ‘ghost fishing'. Lines, nets, traps or any other equipment designed to catch fish and marine organisms continue do so unattended in the marine environment, entangling and potentially killing marine life. Trapped fish attract scavengers that in turn are caught, creating a vicious circle. Ghost nets cause further damage by entangling live coral, smothering reefs and introducing parasites and invasive species into reef environments, writes the Olive Ridley Project, a project that, among other things, studies the impact of ghost nets in the Indian Ocean, and particularly on Olive Ridley turtles.
Around the world, awareness has grown that ghost fishing must stop. One of the most recent initiatives is that of Good Net, a collaboration announced 22 March between the International Volleyball Federation FIVB and the Ghost Fishing Foundation, a Netherlands-based marine conservation group. The goal: to recover discarded fishing nets from the world's oceans and to recycle these into volleyball nets for local community use around the world.
For volleyball players, nets are literally at the centre of the game, noted Brazilian volleyball star Giba at the launch of the Good Net initiative on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the site of the Rio 2016 beach volleyball tournament, where the first nets resulting from the project have been installed. “So, for us, it was really hard to learn that, in the oceans, there are so many nets that are doing so much harm out of sight,” he said.
“With volleyball, we have the most watched sport at the Olympic Games. Who better to team up with groups like Ghost Fishing, so we can act as one to make Good Net?”
The two partners each bring their own specific strengths to the project.
“As divers, we care deeply about the oceans. We also understand just how ghost nets do a huge amount of harm to marine wildlife in places where only a tiny few can see that damage is being done. But volleyball nets, whether on a local beach or at a televised tournament, have a whole other level of visibility,” said Ghost Fishing CEO Pascal van Erp.
In the spirit of sport, it's a collaboration with a win-win outcome. Call it the net effect.