Beneath the serene surface of our oceans, a silent menace known as “ghost gear” lurks, largely unnoticed and underappreciated. Every year, an estimated 500,000 to 1 million tons of abandoned or unintentionally lost fishing gear end up in our oceans, constituting a significant portion of marine litter, accounting for at least 10% of the total. The implications of this growing problem are far-reaching.
Ghost gear is particularly insidious because it can continue to ensnare marine life indiscriminately for years, perpetuating a cycle of destruction. This relentless entanglement not only impacts fish stocks, disrupting food resources, but also poses a grave threat to endangered species such as marine mammals, cetaceans, sharks, rays, and sea turtles.
Furthermore, the consequences of unaddressed ghost gear extend beyond entangled creatures. It also inflicts severe damage on critical marine habitats, such as coralligenous and seagrass beds. Once ensnared in ghost gear, these habitats lose their ability to provide sustenance and shelter for marine organisms, imperiling the entire marine ecosystem.
The synergy between the impacts caused by lost fishing gear and climate change is particularly evident on coral reefs. Ropes and lines wrapped around delicate organisms, such as gorgonians, cause abrasions, rendering them susceptible to pathogens, especially in “stressful” environmental conditions like heatwaves.
The Salvamare Law
Recognizing the urgent need to address this environmental crisis, the Italian government took a significant step forward by passing the Salvamare law on May 11, 2022. This legislation represents a pivotal development in advancing the goals of sea cleaning and protection championed by projects like EcoeFISHent. Notably, the Salvamare law empowers fishermen to classify waste accidentally caught at sea as urban waste, a crucial provision in tackling ghost gear. Additionally, it acknowledges the vital role of environmental associations in conducting water cleaning campaigns.
However, despite its passage, the Salvamare Law has remained inactive for 14 months. Urgent government action is imperative to expedite the issuance of the necessary implementing decrees to ensure the law’s effective enforcement.
Call to action: the Stop GG Initiative
In a concerted effort to combat the ghost gear crisis, WWF Italy, along with its consortium partners, is spearheading the Stop GG initiative within the EcoeFISHent project. This multifaceted endeavor focuses on holistic solutions, with an emphasis on environmental stewardship and awareness.
Collaborating with local institutions, Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), fishers, divers, NGOs, and waste management companies, the initiative seeks to free ecologically sensitive regions in the Mediterranean from the clutches of ghost gear.
Another critical aspect of the initiative is the promotion of preventive measures. By concentrating on education and awareness among local stakeholders, it aims to reduce the incidence of gear being lost or abandoned at sea, mitigating the root causes of the ghost gear problem.
In an effort to streamline efforts and ensure efficient responses, the initiative is dedicated to creating a standardized protocol for mapping, reporting, and retrieving ghost gear when appropriate. This structured approach enhances the effectiveness of the cleanup and retrieval process.
By exploring circular economy approaches, it seeks sustainable methods for the disposal and recycling of ghost gear. This not only cleans our oceans but also minimizes waste.
Raising public awareness is integral to combating the ghost gear crisis: support is instrumental in the mission to protect our marine ecosystems.
In 2022-2023, numerous actions were executed in Portofino MPA and its surrounding areas in collaboration with local stakeholders. Volunteer divers played a crucial role in retrieving approximately 170 kg of fishing lines and nets, contributing to the ongoing battle against ghost gear.
In conclusion, the threat of ghost gear is an escalating environmental crisis that demands immediate attention and concerted efforts from governments, organizations, and the public. The Salvamare Law and initiatives like Stop GG are crucial steps towards preserving our oceans and marine life for future generations. It is incumbent upon us all to act swiftly and responsibly to combat this silent menace and ensure the health and vitality of our oceans.