Ghost nets end up in the world’s oceans thanks to a number of factors. They become damaged and end up falling off boats into the ocean, or they get dumped by fishermen who think no one is watching. Either way, they can do a whole lot of damage to an ocean’s ecosystem.
Ghost nets are an environmental disaster on two fronts as well. They float in the ocean for a while, catching all sorts of fish and marine mammals along the way–causing the most harm to turtles, whales, sharks, dolphins, and other larger species. These species don’t reproduce as often so their populations are hit the hardest when they suffocate at the hands of a floating fishing net. Over time, once the fishing nets finally sink to the bottom of the ocean and break down into a “plastic soup”, the chemicals used to make them are released and eaten by fish as they make their way up the food chain. It’s heartbreaking on so many levels, but there may be an alternative in the works.
Engineering student Alejandro Plasencia has created a fishing net that fixes all of the above problems. His inventive net biodegrades in four years time and built in RFID tags map where the net is located in the ocean so the nets can be retrieved and fixed. The tags are connected to an app that allows fishermen to use their smartphone to find the net.
The nets contain the additive d2w in the thread’s polymer which help them to biodegrade so they doesn’t become ingredients in plastic soup.
“The ghost net and plastic soup phenomena threaten the way of life for many populations, so it’s a problem we were very interested in tackling,” said the designer.
It’s a rational idea to fix a huge problem. I wrote recently that data collected over a six-year period has finally taken an aerial view of the world’s plastics. In all, 5 trillion pieces of plastic, collectively weighing 269,000 tons are floating in the world’s oceans, causing pollution beyond our wildest nightmares.
In the meantime, The NOAA Marine Debris Program is taking steps to deal with discarded fishing gear by providing a place for fishermen to dispose of gear free of charge. The program has collected more than 2.1 million pounds of gear from 41 locations across the United States. But judging by the numbers above, there’s much more work to be done to deal with these imminent threats head on.
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Image: Tomás Fano