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Reclaiming and Recycling Ghost Gear

ghost nets at bottom of ocean

Ghost gear is an ocean horror that some sea-loving people and organizations are striving to turn into less hazardous and even useful materials. Ghost gear is the term for discarded fishing gear and is an estimated 10 percent of marine trash. Much of it is thrown overboard when ports do not have the capacity to recycle fishing nets. The SeaDoc Society estimates that one ghost net can kill $20,000 worth of Dungeness crab in ten years. The Virginia Institute of Marine Science estimates that abandoned crab pots in the Chesapeake Bay area trap more than a million blue crabs a year.

Ridding the ocean of ghost gear is a critical component in making our oceans more habitable for marine life. Forward thinking organizations are focusing on positioning used nets not as waste products, but as commodities. “Once it becomes a commodity worth having it becomes a business opportunity, and that changes the whole agenda,” says Mike Baker, chief executive of World Animal Protection.

A pioneer in this endeavor is Net-Works that makes carpet tiles from discarded fishing nets. More companies and organizations are seizing this new opportunity to create something of value from hazardous waste:

  • Since 2008, the US Fishing for Energy partnership has collected nearly 3 million pounds of discarded fishing gear from 42 US communities and turned it into electricity that powers 182 homes for a year;
  • The Chilean government supported a skateboard realtor that set up a net collection program and pays local charities to make skateboards from the nets, thus creating work for indigenous people;
  • Ghost nets recovered by divers from The Ghost Fishing Project are recycled and made into Lycra® fabric;
  • Seher Mirza, a textile researcher at the Royal College of Arts, London, developed ‘Threads of the Indus,’ to empower indigenous communities to create traditional crafts with ghost nets and other waste objects that help them earn a living;
  • Pakistani artist Ramla Fatima is working on a sculptural installation exclusively out of ghost nets and discarded material found on ocean beaches. “Ghost nets have proved to be a very exciting art material, which is quite relevant to my subject matter – ‘dematerialization of the body.’ I hope when people look at my work, it will remind them of the importance of the sea,” she said;
  • Ghost Net Australia has measured and recorded more than 13,000 pieces of net recovered off the coats of north Australia since 2004, creating a comprehensive overview of the amounts and types of ghost nets impacting that area. Their efforts to protect the environment have led communities and natural resource management agencies to develop partnerships to reduce ghost net impacts on marine life;
  • Team Ghost Fishing is part of the Healthy Seas initiative, and they claim that removing ghost nets is critical work along with removing other ocean litter. They recycle the waste into textiles. One of their first projects was salvaging discarded fishing gear from Dutch North Sea wrecks.

Some net recovery projects do more than remove dangerous waste from oceans, they also work to recycle as much material as possible to keep it out of landfills. Lost nets pose particular recycling problems because of the mud and growth that accumulate in them over time. In British Columbia, a Pender Island recovery program and the Stevenston Harbour Authority teamed with the Emerald Sea Protection Society to test the possibility of getting ghost nets clean enough to be recycled. They recovered 4,500 pounds of net that had been killing marine life for three decades. The team found that with a pressure washer and determination, the net was clean enough to be recycled into useful materials.

At Indelible Lifestyles we applaud these efforts to clean up our oceans and are proud to offer our customers eco-friendly products.


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