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Gulf of Carpentaria entangled in plastic ghost fishing gear

September 19, 2019 Responsible Tourism No Comments Email Email

An aerial survey of the Gulf of Carpentaria has begun to assess the impact of plastic lost, abandoned and discarded fishing gear – known as ghost gear. 

Australia’s Gulf of Carpentaria is a hot spot for both ghost fishing nets and marine turtles including Olive Ridley, Hawksbill, Green and Flatback turtles. Most of the nets are likely to have travelled on currents from countries to the north.

If left to drift these plastic nets become trapped in the Gulf and continue to fish, injuring, entangling and killing hundreds to thousands of turtles and other marine animals.

World Animal Protection, James Cook University and CSIRO have joined forces to document the current amount of ghost fishing gear in the region.

The data collected will subsequently be analysed to produce a report that provides a up to date picture of the volume of ghost nets in the Gulf and the threat to Australian sea animals.

From previous data collected in the Gulf by CSIRO and GhostNets Australia with Indigenous rangers, the total number of turtles caught by the nearly 9,000 nets samples was estimated between 5,000 and 15,000 turtles, assuming nets drift for one year.

World Animal Protection. Ghost Nets. Weipa. September 11, 2019. Photograph shows Ben Pearson of World Animal Protection and Dr. Norman Duke, senior research scientist of James Cook University examining a section of ghost netting less than 10km South of Weipa, an area contaminated heavily by many segments of ghost nets, fishing lines and plastic debris.Photograph Dean Sewell/Oculi for World Animal Protection.

Ben Pearson, Head of campaigns Australia for World Animal Protection said:

“Fishing gear is designed to catch and kill, and when it is lost or abandoned in the ocean it continues to do this, becoming the most harmful form of marine debris for sea animals.

“It’s heart-breaking to know that animals caught in this incredibly durable gear can suffer from debilitating wounds, suffocate or starve to death over a number of months.”

The federal Threat Abatement Plan contains a number of actions to address ghost gear in Australian waters, but it is not clear whether the Australian Government will fund and implement the initiatives.

Dr Norman Duke (MSc, PhD), Senior Research Scientist, James Cook University said:

“I am acutely aware of how human impacts, such as plastic fishing gear pollution, are adding to the impacts and threats on marine and coastal habitats, and the species that depend on them.

“It is critical we move towards developing long-term solutions that reduce marine debris to preserve ecosystems and protect endangered species.”

To combat the global problem of ghost fishing gear, World Animal Protection founded the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) in 2015, dedicated to tackling the problem of ghost fishing gear at a global scale with practical solutions.

More than 90 GGGI participants from the fishing industry, the private sector, academia, governments, intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations play a critical role to play to mitigate ghost gear locally, regionally and globally.

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